Protection against radiation-induced bone marrow and intestinal injuries by Cordyceps sinensis, a Chinese herbal medicine

Radiat Res. 2006 Dec;166(6):900-7. doi: 10.1667/RR0670.1.


Bone marrow and intestinal damage limits the efficacy of radiotherapy for cancer and can result in death if the whole body is exposed to too high a dose, as might be the case in a nuclear accident or terrorist incident. Identification of an effective nontoxic biological radioprotector is therefore a matter of some urgency. In this study, we show that an orally administered hot-water extract from a Chinese herbal medicine, Cordyceps sinensis (CS), protects mice from bone marrow and intestinal injuries after total-body irradiation (TBI). CS increased the median time to death from 13 to 20 days after 8 Gy TBI and from 9 to 18 days after 10 Gy TBI. Although CS-treated mice receiving 10 Gy TBI survived intestinal injury, most died from bone marrow failure, as shown by severe marrow hypoplasia in mice dying between 18 and 24 days. At lower TBI doses of 5.5 and 6.5 Gy, CS protected against bone marrow death, an effect that was confirmed by the finding that white blood cell counts recovered more rapidly. In vitro, CS reduced the levels of free radical species (ROS) within cells, and this is one likely mechanism for the radioprotective effects of CS, although probably not the only one.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Marrow Diseases / etiology
  • Bone Marrow Diseases / pathology
  • Bone Marrow Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Cordyceps / chemistry*
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / administration & dosage*
  • Intestinal Diseases / etiology
  • Intestinal Diseases / pathology
  • Intestinal Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Radiation Injuries / pathology*
  • Radiation Injuries / prevention & control*
  • Radiation Protection / methods
  • Radiation Tolerance / drug effects*
  • Survival Rate


  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal