Today in AAAAHHHHH: Toxoplasmosis is a horrifying parasitic disease that causes rats to lose their fear of cats so that they get eaten. Basically it makes rats into suicide zombies. In humans, it causes flu-like symptoms, usually in people with already weakened immune systems. It’s usually communicated through undercooked meat and unwashed vegetables.

Researchers at Indiana University may have discovered that the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, Toxoplasma gondii, may actually alter brain cells to change behavior, reports Science Daily.

Researchers found that the proteins in the cells, called astrocytes, in mouse brain tissue infected with Toxoplasma gondii had compounds added to them to form new compounds that are known to alter brain function.

Science Daily writes:

Astrocytes are found throughout the brain and are involved in a variety of important brain structures and activities. Dr. Sullivan and his team evaluated the proteins in astrocyte cells and found 529 sites on 324 proteins where compounds called acetyl groups are added to proteins, creating a map called an “acetylome,” much like a map of all the genes in a particular species is known as its “genome.” In addition, 277 sites on 186 of the proteins had not been reported in previous studies of other types of cells. This process of acetylation can alter the function, location or other aspects of those proteins in the cells, providing new insight into how these cells operate in the brain.

Having created the first acetylome for astrocytes, the researchers then found a significant number of proteins that were acetylated differently in brain tissue infected with Toxoplasma parasites.

“We don’t know the impacts of these changes yet, but these discoveries could be particularly significant in understanding how the parasites persist in the brain and how this ‘rewiring’ could affect behavior in both rodents and humans,” Dr. Sullivan said.

Basically, this means that the Yeerks from Animorphs are real. Cook your meat, wash your vegetables, and get rid of your cat — or else you’ll go insane.

(Photo: stratman² (2 many pix!))