Toxoplasma gondii impairs memory in infected seniors.

Almost 30% of humans present a Toxoplasma gondii positive antibody status and its prevalence increases with age. The central nervous system is the main target. However, little is known about the influence of asymptomatic i.e. latent Toxoplasmosis on cognitive functions in humans. To investigate neurocognitive dysfunctions in asymptomatic older adults with Toxoplasma gondii positive antibody status a double-blinded neuropsychological study was conducted. The participants were classified from a population-based sample (N=131) of healthy participants with an age of 65 years and older into two groups with 42 individuals each: Toxoplasmosis positive (T-pos; IgG50 IU/ml) and Toxoplasmosis negative (T-neg; IgG=0 IU/ml). The outcome measures were a computer-based working-memory test (2-back) and several standardized psychometric tests of memory and executive cognitive functions. T-pos seniors showed an impairment of different aspects of memory. The rate of correctly detected target symbols in a 2-back task was decreased by nearly 9% (P=0.020), corresponding to a performance reduction of about 35% in working memory relative to the T-neg group. Moreover, T-pos seniors had a lower performance in a verbal memory test, both regarding immediate recall (10% reduction; P=0.022), delayed recognition (6%; P=0.037) and recall from long-term memory assessed by the word fluency tests (12%; P=0.029). In contrast, executive functions were not affected. The effects remained mostly unchanged after controlling for medication. The impairment of memory functions in T-pos seniors was accompanied by a decreased self-reported quality of life. Because of the high prevalence of asymptomatic Toxoplasmosis and an increasing population of older adults this finding is of high relevance for public health.

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