While allergic reactions to soya are increasingly investigated, the normal immune response to ingested soya is scarcely described. In the present study, we wanted to characterise the soya-specific immune response in healthy mice ingesting soya protein. Mice fed a soya-containing diet (F0) and mice of the first (F1) and second (F2) offspring generation bred on a soya protein-free diet were used either directly or were transferred between the soya-containing and soya protein-free diet during pregnancy or neonatal life. The mice were compared as to levels of naturally occurring specific antibodies analysed by ELISA, and to the presence of oral tolerance detected as a suppressed antibody and cell-proliferation response upon immunisation with soya protein. F0 mice generated soya-specific antibodies, while oral tolerance to the same soya proteins was also clearly induced. When F0 dams were transferred to soya protein-free feed before mating, the F1 and F2 offspring generations showed no significantly different response, indicating that soya-specific immune components were not maternally transmitted. However, the ingestion of dietary soya protein by F1 mice during late pregnancy and lactation caused a lasting antibody response in the offspring, bat in this case in the absence of oral tolerance. This indicates that, under certain conditions, factors involved in spontaneous antibody production can be transmitted from mother to offspring. Understanding the immune response to soya protein ingested under healthy conditions is important in the assessment of adverse effects of soya protein and in the use of animal allergy models. The present results add to this understanding.
British Journal of Nutrition, 2004, Vol 91, p. 725-732