Recently, a negative association between Toxoplasma-infection and novelty seeking was reported. The authors suggested that changes of personality trait were caused by manipulation activity of the parasite, aimed at increasing the probability of transmission of the parasite from an intermediate to a definitive host. They also suggested that low novelty seeking indicated an increased level of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain of infected subjects, a phenomenon already observed in experimentally infected rodents. However, the changes in personality can also be just a byproduct of any neurotropic infection. Moreover, the association between a personality trait and the toxoplasmosis can even be caused by an independent correlation of both the probability of Toxoplasma-infection and the personality trait with the third factor, namely with the size of living place of a subject. To test these two alternative hypotheses, we studied the influence of another neurotropic pathogen, the cytomegalovirus, on the personality of infected subjects, and reanalyzed the original data after the effect of the potential confounder, the size of living place, was controlled.
In the case-control study, 533 conscripts were tested for toxoplasmosis and presence of anti-cytomegalovirus antibodies and their novelty seeking was examined with Cloninger's TCI questionnaire. Possible association between the two infections and TCI dimensions was analyzed.
The decrease of novelty seeking is associated also with cytomegalovirus infection. After the size of living place was controlled, the effect of toxoplasmosis on novelty seeking increased. Significant difference in novelty seeking was observed only in the largest city, Prague.
Toxoplasma and cytomegalovirus probably induce a decrease of novelty seeking. As the cytomegalovirus spreads in population by direct contact (not by predation as with Toxoplasma), the observed changes are the byproduct of brain infections rather than the result of manipulation activity of a parasite. Four independent lines of indirect evidence, namely direct measurement of neurotransmitter concentration in mice, the nature of behavioral changes in rodents, the nature of personality changes in humans, and the observed association between schizophrenia and toxoplasmosis, suggest that the changes of dopamine concentration in brain could play a role in behavioral changes of infected hosts.