Tags: parasite | suicide | cat

Cat-related Parasite may Trigger Suicide

Monday, 20 August 2012 03:25 PM

A common cat-related parasite thought to be harmless and present in many people may actually be causing subtle changes in the brain that can lead to suicide attempts, according to new research out of Michigan State University.
The findings, reported in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, have linked a relatively common infection caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite to a higher risk of suicide attempts. About 10-20 percent of Americans have T. gondii in their bodies, but in most it was thought to lie dormant, said lead researcher Lena Brundin, an associate professor of experimental psychiatry in MSU's College of Human Medicine.
But, in fact, the new study found the parasite can cause inflammation over time, which produces harmful metabolites that can damage brain cells.
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"Previous research has found signs of inflammation in the brains of suicide victims and people battling depression, and there also are previous reports linking Toxoplasma gondii to suicide attempts," she said. "In our study we found that if you are positive for the parasite, you are seven times more likely to attempt suicide."
The work by Brundin and colleagues is the first to measure scores on a suicide assessment scale from people infected with the parasite. The results indicated those infected with T. gondii scored significantly higher on the scale, indicating a significantly greater risk for future suicide attempts.
Brundin stressed, however, that the majority of those infected with the parasite will not attempt suicide.
"Suicide is major health problem," said Brundin. "It is estimated 90 percent of people who attempt suicide have a diagnosed psychiatric disorder. If we could identify those people infected with this parasite, it could help us predict who is at a higher risk."
T. gondii is a parasite found in cells that typically reproduces in cats. It is transmitted to humans primarily through ingesting water and food contaminated with the eggs of the parasite.
"I think it's very positive that we are finding biological changes in suicidal patients," Brundin said. "It means we can develop new treatments to prevent suicides, and patients can feel hope that maybe we can help them. It's a great opportunity to develop new treatments tailored at specific biological mechanisms."
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A common cat-related parasite may cause subtle changes in the brain that can lead to suicide attempts.
Monday, 20 August 2012 03:25 PM
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