Parasite manipulation of the proximate mechanisms that mediate social behavior in vertebrates

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Paul MacLean was instrumental in establishing the brain regions that mediate the expression of social behaviors in vertebrates. Pathogens can exploit these central mechanisms to alter host social behaviors, including aggressive, reproductive, and parental behaviors. Although some behavioral changes after infection are mediated by the host (e.g., sickness behaviors), other behavioral modifications are mediated by the pathogen to facilitate transmission. The goal of this review is to provide examples of parasite-mediated changes in social behavior and to illustrate that parasites affect host behavior by infecting neurons, causing central nervous system (CNS) inflammation, and altering neurotransmitter and hormonal communication. Secondarily, a comparative approach will be used to demonstrate that the effects of parasites on social behavior are retained across several classes of vertebrates possibly because parasites affect the phylogenetically primitive structures of the limbic system and related neurochemical systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)441-449
Number of pages9
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2003


  • Aggression
  • Endocrine-immune
  • Limbic system
  • Mating
  • Neurotransmission
  • Parasite - host coevolution
  • Parental behavior
  • Reproduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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