Zombie bugs? Manipulation of kissing bug behavior by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi

Acta Trop. 2019 Dec;200:105177. doi: 10.1016/j.actatropica.2019.105177. Epub 2019 Sep 17.


The parasite manipulation hypothesis states that the parasite modifies host's behavior thereby increasing the probability that the parasite will pass from an intermediate host to its final host. We used the kissing bugs Triatoma pallidipennis and T. longipennis and two isolates of the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite (Chilpancingo and Morelos) to test these ideas. These insects are intermediate hosts of this parasite, which is the causal agent of Chagas disease. The Chilpancingo isolate is more pathogenic than the Morelos isolate, in the bugs. We expected that infected bugs would be more active and likely at detecting human-like odors. Given the differences in pathogenicity between isolates, we expected the Chilpancingo isolate to induce these effects more strongly and lead to higher parasite number than the Morelos isolate. Finally, infected bugs would gain less mass (a mechanism thought to increase bite rate, and thus transmission) than non-infected bugs. Having determined that both isolate haplotypes belong to the Tc1a group, we found that: (a) young instars of both species were more active and likely to detect human odor when they were infected, regardless of the isolate; (b) there was no difference in parasite abundance depending on isolate; and, (c) infected bugs did not end up with less weight than uninfected bugs. These results suggest that T. cruzi can manipulate the bugs, which implies a higher risk to contract Chagas disease than previously thought.

Keywords: Behavior; Chagas; Host manipulation; Triatominae; Trypanosoma cruzi.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Chagas Disease / transmission
  • Host-Parasite Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Insect Vectors / growth & development*
  • Insect Vectors / parasitology*
  • Mexico
  • Triatoma / growth & development*
  • Triatoma / parasitology*
  • Trypanosoma cruzi / parasitology*