Mind control: How parasites manipulate cognitive functions in their insect hosts

Frederic Libersat, Maayan Kaiser, Stav Emanuel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Neuro-parasitology is an emerging branch of science that deals with parasites that can control the nervous system of the host. It offers the possibility of discovering how one species (the parasite) modifies a particular neural network, and thus particular behaviors, of another species (the host). Such parasite-host interactions, developed over millions of years of evolution, provide unique tools by which one can determine how neuromodulation up-or-down regulates specific behaviors. In some of the most fascinating manipulations, the parasite taps into the host brain neuronal circuities to manipulate hosts cognitive functions. To name just a few examples, some worms induce crickets and other terrestrial insects to commit suicide in water, enabling the exit of the parasite into an aquatic environment favorable to its reproduction. In another example of behavioral manipulation, ants that consumed the secretions of a caterpillar containing dopamine are less likely to move away from the caterpillar and more likely to be aggressive. This benefits the caterpillar for without its ant bodyguards, it is more likely to be predated upon or attacked by parasitic insects that would lay eggs inside its body. Another example is the parasitic wasp, which induces a guarding behavior in its ladybug host in collaboration with a viral mutualist. To exert long-term behavioral manipulation of the host, parasite must secrete compounds that act through secondary messengers and/or directly on genes often modifying gene expression to produce long-lasting effects.

Original languageEnglish
Article number572
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberMAY
StatePublished - 1 May 2018


  • Behavioral manipulation
  • Brain
  • Cognition
  • Hosts
  • Insects
  • Parasites
  • Parasitoids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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