March 19, 2009

Researchers Link Parasites To Schizophrenia

Scientists in the UK have reported the first evidence that links schizophrenia to toxoplasma parasites.

People who become infected by toxoplasma may develop a minor illness called toxoplasmosis, which can become serious if it is passed from pregnant mother to child.

Previous studies have suggested that toxoplasmosis can indirectly cause schizophrenia because of dopamine-blocking treatments like haloperidol.

However, Dr. Glenn A. McConkey at the University of Leeds, told Reuters Health that his team's study is "the first study showing that the parasite itself could be the source of the neurotransmitter."

"Several studies have found a statistical correlation of toxoplasmosis with schizophrenia," McConkey told Reuters Health.

"Hence, someone with schizophrenia is more likely to have toxoplasmosis than the general population."

Researchers reported in the journal PLoS One that the parasite's genetic make-up included an enzyme that aids in the production of dopamine.

"At this point the research is too premature to suggest changes in treatment," McConkey said.

"Toxoplasmosis screening would be warranted in psychological analysis."

Toxoplasmosis is considered to be the third leading cause of death by foodborne illness in the US with more than 60 million men, women and children carrying the parasite, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Very few of those carrying the parasite exhibit symptoms because their immune system keeps it from causing illness, the CDC said.


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