The parasitic protozoan Toxoplasma gondii infects about one-third of the population of developed countries. The life-long presence of dormant stages of this parasite in the brain and muscular tissues of infected humans is usually considered asymptomatic from the clinical point of view. In the past 20 years, research performed mostly on military personnel, university students, pregnant women and blood donors has shown that this ‘asymptomatic’ disease has a large influence on various aspects of human life. Toxoplasma-infected subjects differ from uninfected controls in the personality profile estimated with two versions of Cattell’s 16PF, Cloninger’s TCI and Big Five questionnaires. Most of these differences increase with the length of time since the onset of infection, suggesting that Toxoplasma influences human personality rather than human personality influencing the probability of infection. Toxoplasmosis increases the reaction time of infected subjects, which can explain the increased probability of traffic accidents in infected subjects reported in three retrospective and one very large prospective case-control study. Latent toxoplasmosis is associated with immunosuppression, which might explain the increased probability of giving birth to a boy in Toxoplasma-infected women and also the extremely high prevalence of toxoplasmosis in mothers of children with Down syndrome. Toxoplasma-infected male students are about 3 cm taller than Toxoplasma-free subjects and their faces are rated by women as more masculine and dominant. These differences may be caused by an increased concentration of testosterone. Toxoplasma also appears to be involved in the initiation of more severe forms of schizophrenia. At least 40 studies confirmed an increased prevalence of toxoplasmosis among schizophrenic patients. Toxoplasma-infected schizophrenic patients differ from Toxoplasma-free schizophrenic patients by brain anatomy and by a higher intensity of the positive symptoms of the disease. Finally, five independent studies performed in blood donors, pregnant women and military personnel showed that RhD blood group positivity, especially in RhD heterozygotes, protects infected subjects against various effects of latent toxoplasmosis, such as the prolongation of reaction times, an increased risk of traffic accidents and excessive pregnancy weight gain. The modern human is not a natural host of Toxoplasma. Therefore, it can only be speculated which of the observed effects of latent toxoplasmosis are the result of the manipulation activity of the Toxoplasma aimed to increase the probability of its transmission from a natural intermediate to the definitive host by predation, and which are just side effects of chronic infection.
This study was supported by the Grand Agency of the Czech Republic [grant no. P303/11/1398] and Charles University of Prague [grant no. UNCE 204004].
- © 2013. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd