Protective roles of Cordyceps on lung fibrosis in cellular and rat models

J Ethnopharmacol. 2012 Sep 28;143(2):448-54. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2012.06.033. Epub 2012 Jul 13.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: Cordyceps sinensis is a fungus used in traditional Chinese medicine as a tonic to soothe the lung for the treatment of fatigue and respiratory diseases. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a chronic, irreversible and debilitating lung disease showing fibroblast/myofibroblast expansion and excessive deposition of extracellular matrix in the interstitium leading to breathing difficulty. Our previous observation revealed a partial relief of lung fibrosis in patients suffering from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). We hypothesize that Cordyceps has beneficial effects on lung fibrosis and the objective of this study is to explore the target(s) of Cordyceps in the relief of lung fibrosis in animal and cell models and to gain insight into its underlying mechanisms.

Material and methods: A rat model of bleomycin (BLM)-induced lung fibrosis and a fibrotic cell model with transforming growth factor beta-1 induction were employed in the studies.

Results: Reduction of infiltration of inflammatory cells, deposition of fibroblastic loci and collagen, formation of reactive oxygen species, and production of cytokines, as well as recovery from imbalance of MMP-9/TIMP-1, were observed in fibrotic rats after treatment with Cordyceps in preventive (from the day of BLM administration) and therapeutic (from 14 days after BLM) regimens. In a fibrotic cell model with transforming growth factor beta-1 induction, the human lung epithelial A549 acquired a mesenchymal phenotype and an increase of vimentin expression with a concomitant decrease of E-cadherin. This epithelial-mesenchymal transition could be partially reverted by cordycepin, a major component of Cordyceps.

Conclusion: The findings provide an insight into the preventive and therapeutic potentials of Cordyceps for the treatment of lung fibrosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bleomycin
  • Cadherins / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Cordyceps*
  • Deoxyadenosines / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 9 / metabolism
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional
  • Protective Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / chemically induced
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / drug therapy*
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / pathology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Tissue Inhibitor of Metalloproteinase-1 / metabolism
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta1 / metabolism
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta1 / pharmacology
  • Vimentin / metabolism


  • Cadherins
  • Deoxyadenosines
  • Protective Agents
  • TIMP1 protein, rat
  • Tissue Inhibitor of Metalloproteinase-1
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta1
  • Vimentin
  • Bleomycin
  • Collagen
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 9
  • Mmp9 protein, rat
  • cordycepin