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The Ethoneuro Laboratory is a multidisciplinary research laboratory that works at the interface of neurobiology (approach and avoidance behaviours) and parasitology (behavioural manipulation of host by parasites). 
Majority of the work will relate to behavioural manipulation of rodents by Toxoplasma.

We are a research group within School of Biological Sciences at NTU. We are situated in the warm and welcoming environs of Singapore. 

Our Research

Fear and attraction are evolutionary ancient parts of our psyche. Using animal models, we study how brain brings about these; and what happens when they get mixed up!

Our research program is inspired the fact that a parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, can invade rat brain and removes deep-seated fears from a rat’s psyche. Why? So that parasite can hitch-hike a ride to cat intestines (when fearless rat is eaten by the cat) and reproduce there. This paradigm allows access to a really specific perturbation system for fear. In our lab, we try to learn how this parasite manages to make rats fearless.

Recently, we have observed that female rats prefer males infected with Toxoplasma over run-of-the-mill uninfected animals.  This is interesting because females usually detect and detest parasitized males. A male teeming with parasites is infected because he likely has a poor immune defense, and thus a questionable genetic legacy. The fact that Toxoplasma can get around such evolutionary hard-wired behavior is exciting. We are now trying to learn the mechanisms of this effect.


Mol Ecol paper

posted Sep 19, 2014, 6:46 PM by Ajai Vyas

Shantala's Mol Ecol paper is amongst top 95th percentile for that journal with regard to attention from news sources and blogs. Mol Ecol will soon publish a commentary about that paper. Let's hope ISME J paper also gathers that kind of attention.

Shantala's work in NYT

posted Aug 31, 2014, 2:19 AM by Ajai Vyas

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/28/science/parasites-practicing-mind-control.html?_r=0


Our first citation from this lab

posted May 30, 2012, 9:22 AM by Unknown user   [ updated May 30, 2012, 9:24 AM ]

A recent review from Joanne Webster's lab

The role of parasites and pathogens in influencing generalized anxiety and predation-related fear in the mammalian central nervous system

Lab in media #02

posted Mar 12, 2012, 3:12 PM by Ajai Vyas

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2011/11/02/theres-just-something-about-him/

There’s just something about him…




Lab in media #01

posted Mar 1, 2012, 7:53 PM by Ajai Vyas   [ updated Mar 2, 2012, 12:55 AM by Unknown user ]

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/03/how-your-cat-is-making-you-crazy/8873/

The neurobiologist Ajai Vyas, after working with Sapolsky on this study as a postdoctoral student, decided to inspect infected rats’ testicles for signs of cysts. Sure enough, he found them there—as well as in the animals’ semen. And when the rat copulates, Vyas discovered, the protozoan moves into the female’s womb, typically infecting 60 percent of her pups, before traveling on up to her own brain—creating still more vehicles for ferrying the parasite back into the belly of a cat.

Could T. gondii be a sexually transmitted disease in humans too? “That’s what we hope to find out,” says Vyas, who now works at Nanyang Technological University, in Singapore. The researchers also discovered that infected male rats suddenly become much more attractive to females. “It’s a very strong effect,” says Vyas. “Seventy-five percent of the females would rather spend time with the infected male.

New Research Paper (Nov 2011)

posted Feb 27, 2012, 2:21 AM by Unknown user   [ updated Feb 27, 2012, 2:22 AM ]

Females in various species typically avoid males infected with parasites, while parasite-free males advertise their status through conspicuous phenotypic traits. This process selects for heritable resistance and reduces direct exposure of the female to parasites. Coevolving parasites are likely to attempt to circumvent this obstacle. In this paper, we demonstrate a case of parasitic manipulation of host mate choice. We report that Toxoplasma gondii, a sexually transmitted infection of brown rats, enhances sexual attractiveness of infected males. Thus under some evolutionary niches, parasites can indeed manipulate host sexual signaling to their own advantage.

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