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Anxiety-like behavior and intestinal microbiota changes as strain-and sex-dependent sequelae of mild food allergy in mouse models of cow’s milk allergy

Smith, NA;Germundson, DL;Gao, P;Hur, J;Floden, AM;Nagamoto-Combs, K;

A number of studies have reported comorbidity of food allergies with various neuropsychiatric disorders, such as anxiety, depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and autism. However, inconsistent results across clinical studies have left the association between food allergy and behavioral disorders inconclusive. We postulated that the heterogeneities in genetic background among allergic cohorts affect symptom presentation and severity of food allergy, introducing bias in patient selection criteria toward individuals with overt physical reactions. To understand the influence of genetic background on food allergy symptoms and behavioral changes beyond anaphylaxis, we generated mouse models with mild cow’s milk allergy by sensitizing male and female C57BL/6J and BALB/cJ mice to a bovine whey protein, β-lactoglobulin (BLG; Bos d 5). We compared strain- and sex-dependent differences in their immediate physical reactions to BLG challenge as well as anxiety-like behavior one day after the challenge. While reactions to the allergen challenge were either absent or mild for all groups, a greater number of BLG-sensitized BALB/cJ mice presented visible symptoms and hypothermia compared to C57BL/6J mice. Interestingly, male mice of both strains displayed anxiety-like behavior on an elevated zero maze without exhibiting cognitive impairment with the cross maze test. Further characterization of plasma cytokines/chemokines and fecal microbiota also differentiated strain- and sex-dependent effects of BLG sensitization on immune-mediator levels and bacterial populations, respectively. These results demonstrated that the genetic variables in mouse models of milk allergy influenced immediate physical reactions to the allergen, manifestation of anxiety-like behavior, levels of immune responses, and population shift in gut microbiota. Thus, stratification of allergic cohorts by their symptom presentations and severity may strengthen the link between food allergy and behavioral disorders and identify a population(s) with specific genetic background that have increased susceptibility to allergy-associated behavioral disorders.