Background: Toxoplasma gondii is a pathogen implicated in psychiatric disorders. As elevated antibodies to T. gondii are also present in non-symptomatic individuals, we hypothesized that the age during first exposure to the pathogen may affect symptom manifestation. We tested this hypothesis by evaluating neurobehavioral abnormalities and the immune response in mice following adolescent or adult T. gondii infection. Methods: Mice were infected with T. gondii at postnatal day 33 (adolescent/juvenile) or 61 (adult). At 8 weeks post-infection (wpi), pre-pulse inhibition of the acoustic startle (PPI) in mice administered MK-801 (0.1 and 0.3 mg/kg) and amphetamine (5 and 10 mg/kg) was assessed. Peripheral (anti-T. gondii, C1q-associated IgG and anti-GLUN2 antibodies) and central (C1q and Iba1) markers of the immune response were also evaluated. In addition, regional brain expression of N-methyl-. d-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) subunits (GLUN1 and GLUN2A), glutamatergic (vGLUT1, PSD95) and GABAergic (GAD67) markers, and monoamines (DA, NE, 5-HT) and their metabolites were measured. Results: Juvenile and adult infected mice exhibited opposite effects of MK-801 on PPI, with decreased PPI in juveniles and increased PPI in adults. There was a significantly greater elevation of GLUN2 autoantibodies in juvenile-compared to adult-infected mice. In addition, age-dependent differences were found in regional expression of NMDAR subunits and markers of glutamatergic, GABAergic, and monoaminergic systems. Activated microglia and C1q elevations were found in both juvenile- and adult-T. gondii infected mice. Conclusions: Our study demonstrates that the age at first exposure to T. gondii is an important factor in shaping distinct behavioral and neurobiological abnormalities. Elevation in GLUN2 autoantibodies or complement protein C1q may be a potential underlying mechanism. A better understanding of these age-related differences may lead to more efficient treatments of behavioral disorders associated with T. gondii infection.
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