Ophiocordyceps sinensis (Berk.) G.H. Sung, J.M. Sung, Hywel-Jones & Spatafora

Last updated: 23 Aug 2016

Scientific Name

Ophiocordyceps sinensis (Berk.) G.H. Sung, J.M. Sung, Hywel-Jones & Spatafora


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Vernacular Name

No documentation.

Geographical Distributions

No documentation.

Botanical Description

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No documentation.

Chemical Constituent

Ophiocordyceps sinensis was reported to contain proteins, amino acids , polysaccharides (including cordysinocan), sterols and fatty acids, nucleosides (including 3'-deoxyadenosine [cordycepin]), vitamins B1, B2, B12, E, and K. [1][2]

Plant Part Used

No documentation

Traditional Use

O. sinensis has been used in humans for centuries as a tonic for improving performance and vitality, with the proposed mechanism of action being improved oxygen consumption by the cardiopulmonary system under stress and increased tissue “steady state" energy levels. Cordyceps may modulate immune function and optimize endocrine systems, increasing physical strength and endurance. [3][4]

O. sinensis has been traditionally used for its improvement in respiration and in individuals with decreased lung function, such as asthma and bronchitis, by increasing oxygenation (improving VO2 max by 9-15%. [5]

Preclinical Data


Immunomodulatory activity

O. sinensis has reported to exhibit immunomodulatory activity, with various fractions isolated from cordyceps either showing immune stimulation or immune suppression [6][7]. O. sinensis is reported to increase interleukin (IL)-10, IL-1beta, IL-6, IL-8 and TNF-alpha and suppress phytohemagglutinin (PHA)-induced production of IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, IFN-gamma and IL-12 [8].

One study reported that isolated fractions of cordyceps significantly inhibited the blastogenesis response, NK cell activity and IL-2 production of human mononuclear cells (HMNC) stimulated by phytohemmaglutination [9]. TNF-alpha production in HMNC cultures was also blocked by the cordyceps fractions. These results indicated that these fractions of cordyceps were not cytotoxic on HMNC, and that immunosuppressive ingredients are contained in O. sinensis. Other studies have reported cordyceps beneficial for increasing the immune responses [10][11]. Cordysinocan, a polysaccharide from cordyceps is reported to improve immune function by increasing IL-2 and IL-8 and increasing phagocytic activity and the enzymatic activity of acid phosphatase [12]. O. sinensis may also help balance Th1-type immunity, helping decreases inflammatory responses in the body [13].

In an animal study, cordyceps has been reported to decrease the progression of autoimmune diseases such as lupus [14]. In the clinical presentation, the treated animal group had a reduction in lymphadenopathy, a delayed progression of proteinuria, and an improvement in kidney function, with histologic analysis of kidney tissue indicating that O. sinensis may inhibit the mesangial proliferation that is evident in lupus nephritis. However, there was no significant change in immune complex deposition. The authors report that the study revealed cordyceps may be potentially useful for treating systemic lupus erythematosus in human patients, although more research needs to be performed in this area. O. sinensis was also reported to protect stem cells and red blood cells during chemotherapy and radiation [15]. Cordycepin has also been reported in an in vitro study to inhibit IL-1beta-induced chemokine production and MMP expression and block the p38/JNK/AP-1 signaling pathway in rheumatoid arthritis [16].

O. sinensis has been reported to have anticancer and antitumor effects by decreasing proliferation and differentiation of cancerous cells and the immunomodulatory effects [17][18][19][20]. Previous studies suggest that down-regulation of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) antigens on the cell surface of certain tumors results in a decreased immune response. A study was performed to see if O. sinensis had a modulatory effect on MHC class II antigen expression on hepatoma cells in vitro [21]. The cordyceps extract was found to increase the MHC class II antigen expression on the hepatoma cells in a dose-related reponse. The authors concluded that cordyceps, either alone or with IFN-gamma induction, increases the MHC class II antigen expression on hepatoma cell line. In an animal study, cordyceps was found to inhibit hepatic fibrogenesis, slow down the development of cirrhosis, and improve liver function by reducing PDGF expression, preventing HSC activation and deposition of procollagen I and III [22]. Cordyceps extracts have also been reported in in vitro studies to have antitumor effects in various cancer cell lines [23][24][25].

Renoprotective activity

Administration of the O. sinensis extract significantly increased the activity of hepatic glucokinase in these animals. O. sinensis has been used for decreasing the renal toxicity of aminoglycosides and cyclosporine and in individuals with chronic renal failure [26][27][28]. Kidney protection is claimed to be due to: protecting tubular cell sodium pump activity; attenuating tubular cell lysosome overfunction stimulated by phagocytosis of aminoglycoside; and decreasing tubular cell lipoperoxidation in response to toxic injury [29][30].

An extract of O. sinensis was reported in a small clinical study to be effective in clinical renal transplant patients on cyclosporine, allowing for decreased dosages of cyclosporine and fewer side effects without an increased risk of acute rejection [31]. An in vitro study found that cordyceps decreased the negative effects of taxol chemotherapy on bone marrow function by protecting both hematopoietic progenitor cells directly and the bone marrow stem cells through its effects on osteoblast differentiation [32].

Antioxidant activity

O. sinensis is an antioxidant that increases serum levels of the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD), thereby increasing free radical scavenging ability [33]. O. sinensis has antiarrhythmic effects, decreasing the heart rate and contractility in laboratory animals [34]. An in-vitro study reported that cordyceps may induce vasorelaxation by mediation of the vascular endothelium possibly by stimulating the release of the nitric oxide and endothelium-derived hyperpolarizing factor. [35] It has PAF inhibiting action in laboratory studies [36]. It has also been reported to positively affect blood lipid metabolism, and may therefore be useful in atherosclerosis [37][38].

Hypoglycemic activity

O. sinensis has been reported to have some hypoglycemic activity in laboratory animals. A polysaccharide purified from a hot water extract of cordyceps was reported to significantly lower the plasma glucose level in hyperglycemic laboratory mice. O. sinensis significantly lowered the plasma glucose level in normal, streptozotocin-induced diabetic and epinephrine-induced hyperglycemic mice after intraperitoneal administration (50 mg/kg) and increased the activity of hepatic glucokinase. A significant reduction in the hepatic glucose output was observed after infusion of O. sinensis using perfused rat liver and significantly decreased protein content of facilitative glucose transporter isoform 2 (GLUT2) from rat liver after intraperitoneal administration. [39][40]

Anti-impotence activity

O. sinensis has been reported to increase sexual vitality in both men and women and decrease male impotence. This may be due to an increase in sex hormones, by vasorelaxation or by directly acting on the sexual center of the brain and sex organs in parallel with the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenocortical axis [41]. It may also reverse drug-induced impotence [42]. O. sinensis has reported MAO inhibiting ability in laboratory animals [39][41].

Clinical Data

No documentation.


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Poisonous Management

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Line drawing

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