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How pernicious parasites turn victims into zombies

How parasites remote control victims

The Company of Biologists

Parasites are unpleasant lodgers at the best of times, but there is one group of parasites that is particularly pernicious. These are the parasites that hijack their victims' nervous systems, reducing them to helpless zombies. 'The fact that parasites can so efficiently alter host behaviour is fascinating', says The Journal of Experimental Biology Editor Michael Dickinson, from the University of Washington, USA, adding, 'There is something horrifying and wondrous about a tiny "implant" being able to control such a large animal machine'. What is more, it appears that these minute manipulators can have a significant, and often under-appreciated, impact on ecology, physiology and evolution, orchestrating the behaviour of vertebrates and invertebrates alike. 'Neuroparasitology is a science where science meets science fiction', Dickinson observes.

In a special collection of Review articles edited by Shelley Adamo, Dickinson, Joanne Webster and Janis Weeks, the journal covers many branches of the newly emerging field of Neuroparasitology, from the behavioural changes exhibited by hijacked hosts to the complex neurological mechanisms that allow parasites to control their victims and the high-tech approaches that are essential for studying them. Featuring case studies of timid animals that are manipulated by their parasites to become more bold and insects that have lost the ability to move independently - allowing hijackers to use the victims' bodies as incubators and food supplies for their young - the collection also features an entire section dedicated to Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite of rodents and cats that can be picked up by humans and may be a contributory factor in some cases of human schizophrenia. In addition, the collection features a section dedicated to our current understanding of the complex neurological mechanisms that allow parasites to take control of their host's nervous system by co-opting the victim's own immune response to alter its behaviour.


Each Review will available for free from the point of publication at and the titles and the authors of each article are listed below:

Adamo, S. A. and Webster, J. P. Neural parasitology: how parasites manipulate host behaviour. 1-2

Adamo, S. A. Parasites: evolution's neurobiologists. 3-10

Moore, J. An overview of parasite-induced behavioral alterations - and some lessons from bats. 11-17

Poulin, R. Parasite manipulation of host personality and behavioural syndromes. 18-26

Cézilly, F., Favrat, A. and Perrot-Minnot, M.-J. Multidimensionality in parasite-induced phenotypic alterations: ultimate versus proximate aspects. 27-35

Maure, F., Daoust, S. P., Brodeur, J., Mitta, G. and Thomas, F. Diversity and evolution of bodyguard manipulation. 36-42

Maure, F., Brodeur, J., Hughes, D. and Thomas, F. How much energy should manipulative parasites leave to their hosts to ensure altered behaviours? 43-46

Libersat, F. and Gal, R. What can parasitoid wasps teach us about decision-making in insects? 47-55

Lafferty, K. D. and Shaw, J. C. Comparing mechanisms of host manipulation across host and parasite taxa. 56-66

Helluy, S. Parasite-induced alterations of sensorimotor pathways in gammarids: collateral damage of neuroinflammation? 67-77

Holland, C. V. and Hamilton, C. M. The significance of cerebral toxocariasis: a model system for exploring the link between brain involvement, behaviour and the immune response. 78-83

McCusker, R. H. and Kelley, K. W. Immune-neural connections: how the immune system's response to infectious agents influences behavior. 84-98

Webster, J. P., Kaushik, M., Bristow, G. C. and McConkey, G. A. Toxoplasma gondii infection, from predation to schizophrenia: can animal behaviour help us understand human behaviour? 99-112

McConkey, G. A., Martin, H. L., Bristow, G. C. and Webster, J. P. Toxoplasma gondii infection and behaviour - location, location, location? 113-119

Vyas, A. Parasite-augmented mate choice and reduction in innate fear in rats infected by Toxoplasma gondii. 120-126

Flegr, J. Influence of latent Toxoplasma infection on human personality, physiology and morphology: pros and cons of the Toxoplasma-human model in studying the manipulation hypothesis. 127-133

Perrot-Minnot, M.-J. and Cézilly, F. Investigating candidate neuromodulatory systems underlying parasitic manipulation: concepts, limitations and prospects. 134-141

Hughes, D. Pathways to understanding the extended phenotype of parasites in their hosts. 142-147

Biron, D. G. and Loxdale, H. D. Host-parasite molecular cross-talk during the manipulative process of a host by its parasite. 148-160

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