Rare parasitic fungus 'may ease inflammation'

Published on 15 November 2012
Rare parasitic fungus 'may ease inflammation'

A rare parasitic fungus found in the mountains of Tibet may hold the key to new anti-inflammatory medicines, scientists believe.

Researchers at the University of Nottingham have been studying a drug called cordycepin, which is derived from caterpillar fungi (Cordyceps) found on caterpillars that hibernate in the mountains.

The rare parasites have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine and cordycepin is already known to have anti-cancer properties.

Now, researchers at Nottingham's School of Pharmacy have discovered that the drug may also help to ease inflammation in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.

Dr Cornelia de Moor's study has shed light on cordycepin's actions at a cellular level, revealing that it helps to reduce inflammatory gene products in the cells that contract during an asthma attack.

She revealed: "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."

Dr de Moor explained that some existing anti-inflammatory drugs such as prednisone work much earlier in the activation of inflammatory genes, while others such as ibuprofen target the final products of the inflammatory reaction.

"These findings indicate that cordycepin acts by a completely different mechanism than currently used anti-inflammatory drugs, making it a potential drug for patients in which these drugs don't work well."

The researchers believe cordycepin may act to combat inflammation by slowing down the cellular response to tissue damage, meaning it may be beneficial in a range of inflammatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis.

While the early research - published in RNA journal - holds promise, Dr de Moor emphasised that there is much more work to be done.

"Clinical testing of cordycepin is not in our immediate plans, as we think we first have to understand this drug in more detail before we can risk treating patients with it," she explained.