Background: Food allergy research is hampered by a lack of animal models that consistently mimic human food allergic responses. Laboratory mice are generally fed grain-based chow made with large amounts of soybeans rich in immunomodulatory isoflavones. We tested the role of dietary soy components in the induction of food allergic responses in the BALB/c mouse strain, which is known to be resistant to anaphylaxis when orally challenged by food allergens. Methods: Mice were fed a soy-free diet for 2 generations. After weaning, mice were maintained on the same diet or fed a diet containing soy isoflavones, i.e. genistein and daidzein, followed by weekly oral sensitizations with crude peanut extract plus cholera toxin and finally challenged at week 7. The anaphylactic symptoms, body temperature, peanut-specific antibodies and mast cell degranulation were assessed. Results: Soy-free diet mice showed significantly higher anaphylactic symptom scores and mast cell degranulation after challenge and higher peanut-specific antibody levels than mice fed regular chow. Introduction of a regular soy diet or an isoflavone diet to soy-free diet mice significantly suppressed the allergic reactions compared to the soy-free diet. Conclusion: Rodent diet is an important variable and needs to be taken into consideration when designing experiments involving animal models. Our results indicate that elimination of soy components from the diet enhances peanut sensitization in BALB/c mice. In addition to serving as a valuable tool to mimic human food allergy, the dietary influence on the immune response could have far-reaching consequences in research involving animal models.

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