Synergistic property of cordycepin in cultivated Cordyceps militaris-mediated apoptosis in human leukemia cells

Phytomedicine. 2014 Oct 15;21(12):1516-24. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2014.07.014. Epub 2014 Aug 28.


Cordyceps militaris is a well-known Chinese traditional medicinal mushroom frequently used for tonics and recently of a potential interest for cancer intervention. Here, we explored the cancer cell killing activity of the hot water extracts of C. militaris cultured mycelia (CM(MY)) and cultivated fruiting bodies (CM(FB)). We found that CM(FB) exhibited a greater cytotoxic effect against various cancer cells over CM(MY). Apoptotic phenotypes including apoptotic body formation, DNA laddering, caspase 3 activation and cleavage of PARP proteins were induced by CM(FB) treatment but only slightly induced by same concentration of CM(MY) treatment in human HL-60 leukemia cells. Cordycepin in CM(FB) (10.47 mg/g) is significantly higher (∼ 15.2 times) than that of CM(MY) (0.69 mg/g). Using isobolographic analysis, the synergy of cytotoxicity was observed across different combined concentrations of CM(MY) and cordycepin. By complementing cordycepin into CM(MY) to the level comparable with CM(FB), we observed that CM(MY) (500 μg/ml) with cordycepin (4.8 μg/ml) induced apoptosis to a level similar to that induced by CM(FB) (500 μg/ml). Together, our results suggest that cordycepin possesses a synergistic cytotoxic effect with Cordyceps militaris-mediated apoptosis in human leukemia cells and therefore explaining a better anti-proliferating activity of CM(FB) over CM(MY).

Keywords: Apoptosis; Cancer-cell killing; Cordycepin; Cordyceps militaris; Leukemia; Synergistic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cordyceps / chemistry*
  • Deoxyadenosines / pharmacology*
  • HL-60 Cells
  • Humans


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Deoxyadenosines
  • cordycepin