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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rat-on-cat2-300x245.jpg (300×245)

catrat_Toxoplasma

Individual Toxoplasma parasites (green) are shown invading neurons (red) grown in a petri dish in the lab. The blue areas are fluorescently tagged cell nuclei.

 

 

A parasite that makes rats sexually attracted to cats has been discovered by scientists at Stanford University.

Researchers have found that Toxoplasma-infected rats are not deterred by cat urine, which normally acts as a warning sign to rodents who are trying to keep away from their predators.

But when exposed to cat urine, infected rats experienced increased activation in the brain regions associated with sexual attraction, the study found.

The areas of the brain associated with fear were simultaneously shut down.

"Normally, we would expect Toxoplasma to knock out the normal fear function in the brain, but in these rats the parasite also tapped into the sexual arousal pathway, which is strange," Neuroscience professor and co-author of the study Robert Sapolsky said.

The parasite needed to reproduce in the cat's digestive system and therefore worked to make the rat more susceptible to being killed by a cat, Prof. Sapolsky said.

If the cat ate the rat, the parasite would then be able to breed and complete its life cycle.

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