Cordycepin is an immunoregulatory active ingredient of Cordyceps sinensis

Am J Chin Med. 2008;36(5):967-80. doi: 10.1142/S0192415X08006387.


We have reported that cordycepin, an adenosine derivative from the fungus Cordyceps, increased interleukin (IL)-10 expression, decreased IL-2 expression and suppressed T lymphocyte activity. In the present study, we further characterized the regulatory effects of cordycepin on human immune cells. Moreover, a traditional Chinese drug, Cordyceps sinensis (CS) that contains cordycepin, was also investigated. Cytometric Bead Array (CBA) was used to determine the concentrations of IL-1beta, IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, IL-12, TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma in culture of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). The results showed that both cordycepin and CS up-regulated IL-10, IL-1beta, IL-6, IL-8 and TNF-alpha; at the same time, they suppressed phytohemagglutinin (PHA)-induced production of IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, IFN-gamma and IL-12. As compared to cordycepin, CS displayed its regulatory effects on IL-2 and IL-10 in a similar dose-dependent manner even with higher efficiency. The binding activity of transcription factors in a human monocytic cell line THP-1 was tested by the trans-AM method, and a higher binding activity of SP1 and SP3 was observed in cordycepin or CS treated cells compared to the control. These results led to the opinion that cordycepin and CS pleiotropically affected the actions of immune cells and cytokine network in a similar fashion. Cordycepin could be an important immunoregulatory active ingredient in Cordyceps sinensis. In addition, CS may contain substances which possess synergism with cordycepin, as CS showed a higher efficiency in the production of IL-10 and IL-2 than cordycepin. However, merits of these effects in pharmacology and clinical medicine have yet to be proven and the precise mechanism of these immune regulatory actions should be researched.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cordyceps / chemistry
  • Cordyceps / immunology*
  • Cytokines / genetics
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Deoxyadenosines / immunology*
  • Deoxyadenosines / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / drug effects
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / immunology
  • Male
  • Plant Extracts / immunology*
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Protein Binding / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Cytokines
  • Deoxyadenosines
  • Plant Extracts
  • Transcription Factors
  • cordycepin