Lycium barbarum berries, also named wolfberry, Fructus lycii, and Goji berries, have been used in the People's Republic of China and other Asian countries for more than 2,000 years as a traditional medicinal herb and food supplement. L. barbarum polysaccharides (LBPs) are the primary active components of L. barbarum berries and have been reported to possess a wide array of pharmacological activities. Herein, we update our knowledge on the main pharmacological activities and possible molecular targets of LBPs. Several clinical studies in healthy subjects show that consumption of wolfberry juice improves general wellbeing and immune functions. LBPs are reported to have antioxidative and antiaging properties in different models. LBPs show antitumor activities against various types of cancer cells and inhibit tumor growth in nude mice through induction of apoptosis and cell cycle arrest. LBPs may potentiate the efficacy of lymphokine activated killer/interleukin-2 combination therapy in cancer patients. LBPs exhibit significant hypoglycemic effects and insulin-sensitizing activity by increasing glucose metabolism and insulin secretion and promoting pancreatic β-cell proliferation. They protect retinal ganglion cells in experimental models of glaucoma. LBPs protect the liver from injuries due to exposure to toxic chemicals or other insults. They also show potent immunoenhancing activities in vitro and in vivo. Furthermore, LBPs protect against neuronal injury and loss induced by β-amyloid peptide, glutamate excitotoxicity, ischemic/reperfusion, and other neurotoxic insults. LBPs ameliorate the symptoms of mice with Alzheimer's disease and enhance neurogenesis in the hippocampus and subventricular zone, improving learning and memory abilities. They reduce irradiation- or chemotherapy-induced organ toxicities. LBPs are beneficial to male reproduction by increasing the quality, quantity, and motility of sperm, improving sexual performance, and protecting the testis against toxic insults. Moreover, LBPs exhibit hypolipidemic, cardioprotective, antiviral, and antiinflammatory activities. There is increasing evidence from preclinical and clinical studies supporting the therapeutic and health-promoting effects of LBPs, but further mechanistic and clinical studies are warranted to establish the dose-response relationships and safety profiles of LBPs.
Keywords: T cell; anti-aging; antioxidant; apoptosis; cancer; chemotherapy; ischemic/reperfusion injury; mechanism; natural killer.