Medicinal mushrooms as a source of antitumor and immunomodulating polysaccharides
- Cite this article as:
- Wasser, S. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol (2002) 60: 258. doi:10.1007/s00253-002-1076-7
The number of mushrooms on Earth is estimated at 140,000, yet maybe only 10% (approximately 14,000 named species) are known. Mushrooms comprise a vast and yet largely untapped source of powerful new pharmaceutical products. In particular, and most importantly for modern medicine, they represent an unlimited source of polysaccharides with antitumor and immunostimulating properties. Many, if not all, Basidiomycetes mushrooms contain biologically active polysaccharides in fruit bodies, cultured mycelium, culture broth. Data on mushroom polysaccharides have been collected from 651 species and 7 infraspecific taxa from 182 genera of higher Hetero- and Homobasidiomycetes. These polysaccharides are of different chemical composition, with most belonging to the group of β-glucans; these have β-(1→3) linkages in the main chain of the glucan and additional β-(1→6) branch points that are needed for their antitumor action. High molecular weight glucans appear to be more effective than those of low molecular weight. Chemical modification is often carried out to improve the antitumor activity of polysaccharides and their clinical qualities (mostly water solubility). The main procedures used for chemical improvement are: Smith degradation (oxydo-reducto-hydrolysis), formolysis, and carboxymethylation. Most of the clinical evidence for antitumor activity comes from the commercial polysaccharides lentinan, PSK (krestin), and schizophyllan, but polysaccharides of some other promising medicinal mushroom species also show good results. Their activity is especially beneficial in clinics when used in conjunction with chemotherapy. Mushroom polysaccharides prevent oncogenesis, show direct antitumor activity against various allogeneic and syngeneic tumors, and prevent tumor metastasis. Polysaccharides from mushrooms do not attack cancer cells directly, but produce their antitumor effects by activating different immune responses in the host. The antitumor action of polysaccharides requires an intact T-cell component; their activity is mediated through a thymus-dependent immune mechanism. Practical application is dependent not only on biological properties, but also on biotechnological availability. The present review analyzes the pecularities of polysaccharides derived from fruiting bodies and cultured mycelium (the two main methods of biotechnological production today) in selected examples of medicinal mushrooms.