The effects of toxoplasmosis on sex ratio at birth

Flegr J., Kaňková Š. 2020: The effects of toxoplasmosis on sex ratio at birth. Early Human Development, in press. DOI: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2019.104874



Toxoplasmosis affects about one third of human population worldwide. It has a wide range of effects on the health, immunity, behaviour, and both prenatal and postnatal outcomes of infected hosts, including humans. Among these effects, stage of infection-specific shifts in secondary sex ratio were described about ten years ago both in humans and in artificially infected mice. In both women and female mice, in the early stage of infection the probability of giving birth of sons significantly increases, up to 260 sons to every 100 daughters. In the late stages of infection, the probability of giving birth to sons markedly decreases to as low as 78 to every 100 daughters.

An ecological correlation study shows that the effect of latent toxoplasmosis on human population biology and demography can be large. In fact, the effect of prevalence of toxoplasmosis on a nationwide sex ratio was the third strongest effect from the effects of 15 factors included in the analysis. It has been suggested that toxoplasmosis-associated concentration of steroid hormones or glucose may be the proximal cause in the sex ratio shift. A more parsimonious explanation of the upward secondary sex ratio shift is found in a lower stringency of quality control of embryos, whose side-effect is increased survival rate of the more immunogenic male embryos in immunosuppressed infected females. The most parsimonious explanation of the downward secondary sex ratio shift relies on the Trivers–Willard hypothesis, which predicts an adaptive shift to more daughters in females with impaired health or lower socioeconomic status.

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