Current findings, future trends, and unsolved problems in studies of medicinal mushrooms
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The target of the present review is to draw attention to many critically important unsolved problems in the future development of medicinal mushroom science in the twenty-first century. Special attention is paid to mushroom polysaccharides. Many, if not all, higher Basidiomycetes mushrooms contain biologically active polysaccharides in fruit bodies, cultured mycelium, and cultured broth. The data on mushroom polysaccharides are summarized for approximately 700 species of higher Hetero- and Homobasidiomycetes. The chemical structure of polysaccharides and its connection to antitumor activity, including possible ways of chemical modification, experimental testing and clinical use of antitumor or immunostimulating polysaccharides, and possible mechanisms of their biological action, are discussed. Numerous bioactive polysaccharides or polysaccharide–protein complexes from medicinal mushrooms are described that appear to enhance innate and cell-mediated immune responses and exhibit antitumor activities in animals and humans. Stimulation of host immune defense systems by bioactive polymers from medicinal mushrooms has significant effects on the maturation, differentiation, and proliferation of many kinds of immune cells in the host. Many of these mushroom polymers were reported previously to have immunotherapeutic properties by facilitating growth inhibition and destruction of tumor cells. While the mechanism of their antitumor actions is still not completely understood, stimulation and modulation of key host immune responses by these mushroom polymers appears central. Particularly and most importantly for modern medicine are polysaccharides with antitumor and immunostimulating properties. Several of the mushroom polysaccharide compounds have proceeded through phases I, II, and III clinical trials and are used extensively and successfully in Asia to treat various cancers and other diseases. A total of 126 medicinal functions are thought to be produced by medicinal mushrooms and fungi including antitumor, immunomodulating, antioxidant, radical scavenging, cardiovascular, antihypercholesterolemia, antiviral, antibacterial, antiparasitic, antifungal, detoxification, hepatoprotective, and antidiabetic effects.