Cordyceps militaris (C. militaris) is an edible fungus used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is reported to be antitumor, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory. Most antitumor studies on this fungus have used the water extract of the fungus, but this study uses an alcohol extract. (C. militaris is very similar to Cordyceps sinensis used in some studies.)
A methanolic (methyl alcohol) extract of C. militaris fruiting body (the fleshy part of fruit) has shown inhibition of a number of human tumor cell lines. The present study was designed to show the effects of an alcohol extract of C. militaris against non-small cell lung cancer. This cell line contains p53*, allowing the study to evaluate the role of p53 in treating this cancer.
The study results showed that the methanolic extract of C. militaris reduced tumor cell survival, depending on the dose. The types of cells remaining and the amounts of apoptosis** were studied to determine the cause of the reduced viability. It was found that treatment with the methanolic extract did reduce cell proliferation at a high concentration. Apoptosis in the cancer cells was induced at both high and low concentrations of the methyl alcohol extract.
p53 protein levels were evaluated in the cancer cells after treatment with the methyl alcohol extract. p53 levels were increased, supporting the idea that this was the mechanism by which the methanolic extract works. p53 has been called “the Guardian of the Genome” since it is so effective in preventing cancer. Fifty percent of all human cancers have either defective mutations or loss of p53, which could have prevented the cancer.
Ways of increasing p53 in cells are being sought to prevent the development of tumors. DNA damage increases the levels of p53 in the cells. This may be how C. militaris works, damaging the DNA to cause an increase in the protective levels of p53. The result of increased p53 is increased apoptosis and reduced proliferation.
CONCLUSION: Molecules which increase p53 levels may serve as anticancer therapy. The methanolic extract of C. militaris fruiting body reduces tumor cell proliferation and increases apoptosis.
NOTES: *p53 is a normal protein in cells which has been shown to be powerful at inhibiting cancer.
**Apoptosis is a natural form of suicide in abnormal cells.
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