Lentinula edodes, known as "shiitake" is one of the widely used medicinal mushrooms in the Orient. Antitumour activity of extracts of this mushroom has been widely demonstrated in animals and humans. However, this activity was shown to be host mediated and not by direct cytotoxic activity to cancer cells. This study demonstrates cytotoxic and cell growth inhibitory (cytostatic) effect of aqueous extracts of the mushroom on MCF-7 human breast adenocarcinoma cell line using an MTT cytotoxicity assay. Such effect was demonstrated with fruit body and mycelial extracts, the difference being that there was no significant suppression on normal cells with the latter. Furthermore mycelial extracts did not induce any cytostatic effect in both cancer and normal cell lines based on a DNA synthesis assay. The significant suppression of the proliferation of cancer cells was reflected by the comparatively low IC(50) values and the simultaneous higher respective values on normal fibroblast cells. The immunostimulatory activity of both fruit body and mycelial extracts was tested by the lymphocyte transformation test (LTT), which is based on the capacity of active immunomodulators to augment the proliferative response of rat thymocytes to T mitogens in vitro. Both fruit body and mycelial preparations were able to enhance the proliferation of rat thymocytes directly and act as co-stimulators in the presence of the T-mitogen PHA. Interestingly both extracts, similarly to zymosan showed SI(comit)/SI(mit) ratios of about 2, indicating adjuvant properties. Overall L. edodes aqueous extracts have demonstrated direct inhibition of the proliferation of human breast cancer cells in vitro and immunostimulatory properties in terms of mitogenic and co-mitogenic activity in vitro.