Toxoplasma gondii—A Gastrointestinal Pathogen Associated with Human Brain Diseases

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

16 Scopus citations


Serious psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression are important causes of mortality and morbidity worldwide. While these are primarily diseases involving altered brain functioning, numerous studies have documented increased rates of gastrointestinal inflammation and dysfunction in many individuals with these disorders. Toxoplasma gondii is an apicomplexan protozoan intracellular parasite with a widespread distribution in both developed and developing countries. Toxoplasma organisms enter the ecosystem through the shedding of oocysts by Toxoplasma-infected felines. In almost all cases of postnatal human infection, Toxoplasma enters its hosts through the intestinal tract either by the ingestion of oocysts or by the consumption of meat from food animals which themselves were infected by Toxoplasma oocysts. It had previously been thought that most cases of Toxoplasma infection in immune competent children and adults were inapparent and asymptomatic. However, recent studies cast doubt on this concept as exposure to Toxoplasma has been associated with a range of acute and chronic symptoms. Of particular note has been the finding of an increased rate of a range of neurological and psychiatric disorders associated with serological evidence of Toxoplasma exposure. A role of Toxoplasma infection in brain diseases is also supported by the consistent finding of altered cognition and behavior in animal models of infections. Much of the attention relating to the role of Toxoplasma infection in neuropsychiatric disorders has focused on the brain, where Toxoplasma tissue cysts can persist for extended periods of time. However, recent discoveries relating to the role of the gastrointestinal tract in cognition and behavior suggest that Toxoplasma may also increase susceptibility to human brain diseases through immune activation, particularly involving the gastrointestinal mucosa. The study of the pathways relating to the pathobiology and immunology of Toxoplasma infection may provide insights into the pathogenesis of a range of human neuropsychiatric disorders as well as into cognitive functioning in otherwise healthy individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationInternational Review of Neurobiology
PublisherAcademic Press Inc.
Number of pages21
StatePublished - 2016

Publication series

NameInternational Review of Neurobiology
ISSN (Print)0074-7742
ISSN (Electronic)2162-5514


  • Cognitive functioning
  • Gut–blood barrier
  • Intestinal inflammation
  • Parasitic infections
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Toxoplasma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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