Viruses and Brain Development

Do viruses make us smarter? Endogenous retroviruses in neural progenitor cells

In the current study, Johan Jakobsson and his colleagues show that retroviruses seem to play a central role in the basic functions of the brain, more specifically in the regulation of which genes are to be expressed, and when. The findings indicate that, over the course of evolution, the viruses took an increasingly firm hold on the steering wheel in our cellular machinery.

…“We have been able to observe that these viruses are activated specifically in the brain cells and have an important regulatory role. We believe that the role of retroviruses can contribute to explaining why brain cells in particular are so dynamic and multifaceted in their function. It may also be the case that the viruses’ more or less complex functions in various species can help us to understand why we are so different”, says Johan Jakobsson, head of the research team for molecular neurogenetics at Lund University.

Do viruses make us smarter? Endogenous retroviruses in neural progenitor cells


That’s very interesting. The most primitive(or close to that) organisms used to absorb other organisms DNA, evolving, having more information. Viruses can implant DNA in their hosts, to make the hosts less likely to reject them. There was an interesting ‘circle of life’ of sorts, where, if I remember correctly, ants bite cows, spreading a specific virus to their brain that causes the cow to have diarrhea, and then other ants can consume it.

Gene expression is also interesting. Twins can have the same exact genes, but depending on the environment, not the same ones are activated.



This is a subject that is very interesting to me. If microbes can manipulate the behavior of animals, it seems reasonable to expect that human behavior can also be affected. Current research appears to back that up.

I linked to some of these in a blog comment, but I’ll repost them here:

Very interesting links.

Gut bacteria is indeed extremely important.


Not sure if this is 100% on topic, but here is an article about a parasite that causes mice to lose their fear of cats. The cat eats the mouse, then the parasite ends up in the cat’s gut–the one place where it can reproduce.

Also, here is an interesting article about fungi that infect ant brains to turn them into zombies:

Better yet, a video:

Yeah, that’s on topic – it’s the same organism mentioned in the cat article, and it might affect humans as well. :slight_smile:

Yikes! I might be infected.

I have the symptoms.

I am not afraid of cats!



Here’s another article on the subject: The macabre world of mind-controlling parasites

Imagine a parasite that makes an animal change its habits, guard the parasite’s offspring or even commit suicide. While mind-control may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, the phenomenon is very real — and has spawned a new field, neuro-parasitology. As outlined in an article published in Frontiers in Psychology, understanding how parasites “hack” their host’s nervous system to achieve a particular goal could provide new insights into how animals control their own behavior and make decisions.

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