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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Toxoplasma Infection and Brain Function

The neurobiological impacts of infection by T. gondii are almost completely unknown, despite the fact that this parasite establishes a life-long infection in the brains of about one third of the world’s human population. In Wisconsin, 4-12.4 percent of children are infected, with a roughly five-fold higher rate on farms. Recent studies have raised concerns about mental health and toxoplasmosis, with reports of links to schizophrenia, depression, and suicide.

A multidisciplinary approach is the only way we will learn how toxoplasmosis influences mental health. This project brings together leaders in microbial science, neuroscience, and computational biology to address this need.

This project will generate the first detailed anatomical study of T. gondii infection of the brain, telling us which brain regions and cell types are targeted. It also will generate a detailed profile of the impact of T. gondii on gene expression in an infected host. A final goal of the project is to determine how infection alters the electrical activity of neurons and establish the functional impact of changes in gene expression. The results will be synthesized into a comprehensive picture for how T. gondii modifies the brain of its host, providing valuable insights and a first meaningful step toward understanding how toxoplasmosis affects behavior and mental health.

Principal Investigator

  • Meyer Jackson
    Professor of Neuroscience

Co-Principal Investigators

  • Laura Knoll
    Professor of Medical Microbiology and Immunology
  • Sushmita Roy
    Assistant Professor of Biostatistics and Medical Informatics and the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery
  • Xinyu Zhao
    Professor of Neuroscience and the Waisman Center