Immune activation by a sterile aqueous extract of Cordyceps sinensis: mechanism of action

Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 2008;30(1):53-70. doi: 10.1080/08923970701812332.


Cordyceps sinensis is a fungus that has been used for over 2,000 years in China as a treatment for a variety of conditions including infectious diseases. The available evidence suggests a hypothesis that any efficacy of C. sinensis as an anti-infective therapeutic would be related to a role as an activator of innate immune responses. The objectives of this study were first to investigate the ability of C. sinensis to activate pro-inflammatory responses in macrophages in vitro and induce protective responses against intracellular pathogens in vivo, and second to characterize a method of action. We found that C. sinensis activates murine macrophages to produce a variety of pro-inflammatory cytokines. IFN-gamma synergizes with C. sinensis to amplify this response. Bacterial endotoxin contamination was ruled out as a potential artefact. The evidence presented in this study supports a hypothesis that C. sinensis activates macrophages by engaging Toll-like receptors and inducing mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways characteristic of inflammatory stimuli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Animals
  • Cordyceps / chemistry*
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Endotoxins / immunology
  • Interferon-gamma / pharmacology
  • Listeriosis / drug therapy
  • Macrophage Activation*
  • Macrophages / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases / metabolism
  • Receptors, Pattern Recognition / drug effects
  • Tissue Extracts / administration & dosage
  • Tissue Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Tissue Extracts / therapeutic use
  • Water / chemistry


  • Cytokines
  • Endotoxins
  • Receptors, Pattern Recognition
  • Tissue Extracts
  • Water
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases