A Gut Feeling

The title, Campylobacter jejuni infection increases anxiety-like behavior
in the holeboard: Possible anatomical substrates for viscerosensory
modulation of exploratory behavior
, is unpromising but the paper is fascinating.  The authors show that infection with certain bacteria can cause more anxious or cautious like behavior in mice, perhaps causing the infected agent to avoid predators.

The presence of certain bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract
influences behavior and brain function. For example, challenge with
live Campylobacter jejuni (C. jejuni), a common
food-born pathogen, reduces exploration of open arms of the plus maze,
consistent with anxiety-like behavior, and activates brain regions
associated with autonomic function, likely via a vagal pathway.

Could bacteria also influence our emotional state?  If verified in humans this could offer insights into conditions like Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and perhaps into fears such as agoraphobia.  Long time readers will know that this study is not alone in suggesting that parasites can influence our emotions.  Ever wonder why you like cats?

Hat tip to Monique van Hoek and Faculty of 1000.


Re: Could bacteria also influence our emotional state?

Not sure why you might think this to be a surprising idea. It is well known that exercise influences emotions, and food and drink, too. In fact, many substances are ingested with the specific intent of affecting emotional states. With bacteria the influence may be less direct, but if they affect what kinds of chemicals get passed into the bloodstream, they could readily affect moods.

Alcohol doesn't want to make me drunk and I get to decide whether to imbibe!

Dan Dennett takes this view of bahavior and expounds it to memes: viruses of the mind, not the brain. This great talk of his at TED shows how some wierd behavior is just a fluke. No really: it's a fluke. http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/116

Crohn's has been linked to infection with Mycobacterium, and the resulting
overactive immune response. This link, however, has not been proven, as some assert that the organism infects a weakened host.

I should note, however, that the medical profession has a lot of resistance to the idea
that microbes underlie chronic disease. Mostly, it is because of their training and
perspective (seeing a disease within a certain paradigm accepted by your peers) but there is also a strong amount of self interest. If you can cure stomach ulcers with antibiotics instead of a life-time of medication, the gastroenterologists are out of a lot of $

The real question is whether or not I can use this to create an army of flesh-eating zombies?

? maybe that'll do it

Italic close attempt. :)

Well this thesis is totally plausible. But what are Indian yoghi doing when
they seat under a sychomore three apparently
meditating, the phalanxes of their thumb and forefinger bent and touching
each other as if they were making the "OK" sign?

This explains why all those sick folks in hospitals are always so grumpy..It's scary that there is a crossover from the physical to physiological, where an outside organism can influence your brain's functions. I am most certainly thankful for having a decent immune system that fights off these micro-depressors. And, on that note, would this also mean that people whom have better immune systems are hapier and more stress free than those who inefficiently fight infection? I think that more people should be made aware of this problem in order to better prepare them for small changes that we can all make to allow for a happier collection of healthy and bacteria free individuals.

There is a first-rate book about the interactions between us and bacteria just out, Good Germs, Bad Germs by Jessica Sachs.

Dear "chase": If you were bacteria free, you would not be healthy, you would die. Mammals need their microbiotic flora to survive!

Toxoplasmosis has been linked to schizophrenia, risk aversion, neuroticism, heightened extraversion and promiscuity (in women...can we bottle it). This is predominately because the parasite releases dopamine. There is quite a body of literature, just google 'toxoplasmosis dopamine' and you will come back with over 90000 hits. A biologist for the USGS recently found a strong, positive correlation between toxoplasmosis infection rates and neuroticism on a nation by nation study. For a good overview of how parasites have 'guided' our evolution, read Carl Zimmer's Parasite Rex.

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