Neurological and behavioral abnormalities, ventricular dilatation, altered cellular functions, inflammation, and neuronal injury in brains of mice due to common, persistent, parasitic infection

Gretchen Hermes, James W. Ajioka, Krystyna A. Kelly, Ernest Mui, Fiona Roberts, Kristen Kasza, Thomas Mayr, Michael J. Kirisits, Robert Wollmann, David J.P. Ferguson, Craig W. Roberts, Jong Hee Hwang, Toria Trendler, Richard P. Kennan, Yasuhiro Suzuki, Catherine Reardon, William F. Hickey, Lieping Chen, Rima McLeod

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

168 Scopus citations


Background: Worldwide, approximately two billion people are chronically infected with Toxoplasma gondii with largely unknown consequences. Methods: To better understand long-term effects and pathogenesis of this common, persistent brain infection, mice were infected at a time in human years equivalent to early to mid adulthood and studied 5-12 months later. Appearance, behavior, neurologic function and brain MRIs were studied. Additional analyses of pathogenesis included: correlation of brain weight and neurologic findings; histopathology focusing on brain regions; full genome microarrays; immunohistochemistry characterizing inflammatory cells; determination of presence of tachyzoites and bradyzoites; electron microscopy; and study of markers of inflammation in serum. Histopathology in genetically resistant mice and cytokine and NRAMP knockout mice, effects of inoculation of isolated parasites, and treatment with sulfadiazine or αPD1 ligand were studied. Results: Twelve months after infection, a time equivalent to middle to early elderly ages, mice had behavioral and neurological deficits, and brain MRIs showed mild to moderate ventricular dilatation. Lower brain weight correlated with greater magnitude of neurologic abnormalities and inflammation. Full genome microarrays of brains reflected inflammation causing neuronal damage (Gfap), effects on host cell protein processing (ubiquitin ligase), synapse remodeling (Complement 1q), and also increased expression of PD-1L (a ligand that allows persistent LCMV brain infection) and CD 36 (a fatty acid translocase and oxidized LDL receptor that mediates innate immune response to beta amyloid which is associated with pro-inflammation in Alzheimer's disease). Immunostaining detected no inflammation around intra-neuronal cysts, practically no free tachyzoites, and only rare bradyzoites. Nonetheless, there were perivascular, leptomeningeal inflammatory cells, particularly contiguous to the aqueduct of Sylvius and hippocampus, CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, and activated microglia in perivascular areas and brain parenchyma. Genetically resistant, chronically infected mice had substantially less inflammation. Conclusion: In outbred mice, chronic, adult acquired T. gondii infection causes neurologic and behavioral abnormalities secondary to inflammation and loss of brain parenchyma. Perivascular inflammation is prominent particularly contiguous to the aqueduct of Sylvius and hippocampus. Even resistant mice have perivascular inflammation. This mouse model of chronic T. gondii infection raises questions of whether persistence of this parasite in brain can cause inflammation or neurodegeneration in genetically susceptible hosts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number48
JournalJournal of Neuroinflammation
StatePublished - Oct 23 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by NIAIDAI R01s 16945, 071319, 43228, 027530, and U01 77887 [RM]; R25 MH071584, 5T32AI07090 [GH]; R01s 073576 and 047730 [YS]; The Research to Prevent Blindness Foundation, The Stanley Foundation and Medical Research Institute (07R-1890 [RM] and 06R-1030 [YS]), the Wellcome Trust [JA, DJPF (Equipment grant)]; and gifts from the Kiewiet, Blackmon, Brennan, Koshland, Langel, Morel, Rosenstein, Kapnick, Taub, Cussen, Lipskar, and Rooney-Alden families. We thank Joseph McCammon for his assistance in preparation of the manuscript.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Immunology
  • Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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