The mushroom Cordyceps militaris has been used for a long time in eastern Asia as a nutraceutical and in traditional Chinese medicine as a treatment for cancer patients. In the present study, a cytotoxic antifungal protease was purified from the dried fruiting bodies of C. militaris using anion-exchange chromatography on a DEAE-Sepharose column. Electrophoretic analyses indicated that this protein, designated C. militaris protein (CMP), has a molecular mass of 12 kDa and a pI of 5.1. The optimum conditions for protease activity were a temperature of 37 and pH of 7.0~9.0. The enzyme activity was specifically inhibited by the serine protease inhibitor phenylmethylsulfonyl fluoride. Amino acid composition of intact CMP and amino acid sequences of three major peptides from a tryptic digest of CMP were determined. CMP exerted strong antifungal effect against the growth of the fungus Fusarium oxysporum, and exhibited cytotoxicity against human breast and bladder cancer cells. These results indicate that C. militaris represents a source of a novel protein that might be applied in diverse biological and medicinal applications.
Keywords: Antifungal activity; Cordyceps militaris; Cytotoxicity; Mushroom; Protease.