Caterpillar fungi may benefit asthma patients

Published on November 16, 2012 at 5:15 PM · No Comments

By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter

Research shows that cordycepin, extracted from a group of rare parasitic caterpillar fungi of the genus Cordyceps, has unusual anti-inflammatory properties that may make it a good candidate for treating conditions such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.

The investigators, led by Cornelia de Moor (University of Nottingham, UK), found that cordycepin, which is similar in structure to adenosine, inhibits the stimulation of inflammatory messenger RNAs (mRNAs) by cytokines secreted by smooth muscle cells in the human airway, but does not affect the expression of "housekeeping" mRNAs.

"We have shown that cordycepin reduces the expression of inflammatory genes in airway smooth muscle cells by acting on the final step in the synthesis of their messenger RNAs (mRNAs) which carry the chemical blueprint for the synthesis of proteins. This process is called polyadenylation," said de Moor in a press statement.

"However, it is a surprise that cordycepin does not affect the synthesis of mRNAs from other genes, because nearly all mRNAs require polyadenylation," she said.

Cordyceps fungi live on hibernating caterpillars in the Tibetan mountains and have been a highly sought after component of Chinese medicine for many years. Studies have suggested the fungi could be used to treat a variety of conditions including cancer, stroke, kidney disease, and inflammatory lung disease, but scientific evidence regarding the mechanism of action of cordycepin was unclear until now.

The team explains in RNA that the anti-inflammatory action of cordycepin is quite different from the way in which most anti-inflammatory drugs work, therefore "opening up the possibility of anti-inflammatory drugs working by a completely novel mechanism."

de Moor commented: "Commonly used anti-inflammatory drugs either work much earlier in the activation of inflammatory genes, such as prednisone, or work on one of the final products of the inflammatory reaction (e.g. ibuprofen)."

Further work is needed to clarify and test the mechanism of action and potential benefits of cordycepin further, but the researchers believe that cordycepin may act by slowing down the rapid cellular responses of the body to tissue damage.

"We are hoping to further investigate which genes are more dependent on polyadenylation than others and why this is the case, as well as test the effect of cordycepin on animal models of disease," concluded de Moor.

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