Activation of the human innate immune system by Spirulina: augmentation of interferon production and NK cytotoxicity by oral administration of hot water extract of Spirulina platensis

Int Immunopharmacol. 2002 Mar;2(4):423-34. doi: 10.1016/s1567-5769(01)00166-7.


Spirulina platensis is a cyanobacterial species that is surmised to potentiate the immune system leading to suppression of cancer development and viral infection. Here, we identified the molecular mechanism of the human immune potentiating capacity of Spirulina by analyzing blood cells of volunteers with pre and post oral administration of hot water extract of Spirulina. NK functions represented by IFN gamma production and cytolysis were enhanced after administration of Spirulina in >50% subjects. IFN gamma was produced in an IL-12/IL-18-dependent fashion. In vitro stimulation of blood cells with BCG cell wall skeleton (CWS) allowed more potent IL-12 p40 production in cells from volunteers given Spirulina than in cells without pre-exposure to Spirulina. As BCG-CWS serves as a ligand for Toll-like receptor (TLR) 2 and 4 to raise the maturation stage of monocytes/macrophages, Spirulina may be involved in the signaling responses through Toll in blood cells even when orally administered. These observations indicated that in humans Spirulina acts directly on myeloid lineages and either directly or indirectly on NK cells. The presence of co-operative IL-12 and IL-18 is critically important for NK-mediated IFN gamma production.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Adult
  • Bacterial Proteins / administration & dosage*
  • Bacterial Proteins / immunology*
  • Cyanobacteria / chemistry
  • Cyanobacteria / immunology
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology*
  • Interferon Inducers / administration & dosage
  • Interferon Inducers / immunology
  • Interferons / biosynthesis*
  • Interferons / immunology
  • Interleukin-12 / biosynthesis
  • Interleukin-12 / chemistry
  • Interleukin-12 / immunology
  • Interleukin-18 / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Protein Subunits
  • Receptors, Interleukin / metabolism
  • Spirulina


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Interferon Inducers
  • Interleukin-18
  • Protein Subunits
  • Receptors, Interleukin
  • Interleukin-12
  • Interferons