Home renovations: understanding how Toxoplasma modifies host neurons to change host behaviour

Home renovations: understanding how Toxoplasma modifies host neurons to change host behaviour

Project details

Upon infection the single celled intracellular parasite Toxoplasma extensively modifies its host cell in order to survive in the face of the immune system and to allow acquisition to nutrients for growth. Chronic infection of neural tissue with Toxoplasma has been associated with remarkable changes in the behaviour of the mammalian host, while infection is also correlated with several human neuropsychiatric conditions. 

We have recently become interested in how this cunning parasite modifies infected neurons during the chronic phase of infection, which may trigger changes in the brain. 

This project will utilise the latest molecular genetic techniques (e.g. CRISPR), tissue culture, imaging and potentially quantitative proteomics depending on the student’s interests.

About our research group 

The phylum Apicomplexa comprises a group of parasites that must invade host cells for survival and proliferation. The Tonkin lab is interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms that allow these pathogens to invade target host cells and then extensively modify these for their own advantage. We primarily work on Toxoplasma, responsible for congenital birth defects, blindness and disease in immunocompromised individuals, while also acting as a excellent model system for understanding molecular processes driving pathogenesis in malaria parasites (Plasmodium spp). 

We employ cross-disciplinary approaches to understanding parasite virulence mechanisms including molecular genetics, quantitative proteomics, cell biology and molecular biology.  


Toxoplasma microscopy image
Toxoplasma parasites (red) replicating in a human cell. Toxoplasma parasites export an effector protein (green) into the host cell nucleus (blue), which prevents apoptosis and promotes survival.



Project Type:


It’s thought that an infection in humans caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii could cause a change in our behaviour—even a change in our personality that could 'make us' like cats.