Active compound in an edible mushroom is found to boost memory

The compound inside the mushroom could be used to treat Alzheimer's.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Lion's mane mushroom.
Lion's mane mushroom.

Kathleen Ring/iStock 

An active compound found in an edible mushroom may just be able to improve nerve growth and enhance memory leading to treatments for debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Professor Frederic Meunier from the Queensland Brain Institute revealed in a report published last Friday that his team of researchers had identified new active compounds from the mushroom, Hericium erinaceus, commonly known as the Lion’s Mane Mushroom.

The mushroom can be found in North America, Europe, and Asia. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is used to boost the immune system and improve digestive health.

Boosting brain cells

So far, the researchers have conducted pre-clinical trials with very promising results.

“Extracts from these so-called ‘lion’s mane’ mushrooms have been used in traditional medicine in Asian countries for centuries, but we wanted to scientifically determine their potential effect on brain cells,” Professor Meunier said in the press release.

“Pre-clinical testing found the lion’s mane mushroom had a significant impact on the growth of brain cells and improving memory.”

Promoting neuron projections

“Laboratory tests measured the neurotrophic effects of compounds isolated from Hericium erinaceus on cultured brain cells, and surprisingly we found that the active compounds promote neuron projections, extending and connecting to other neurons,” added Meunier.

“Using super-resolution microscopy, we found the mushroom extract and its active components largely increase the size of growth cones, which are particularly important for brain cells to sense their environment and establish new connections with other neurons in the brain.”

Co-author UQ’s Dr. Ramon Martinez-Marmol added that the newly-discovered compound may have applications in the treatment and protection against neurodegenerative cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our idea was to identify bioactive compounds from natural sources that could reach the brain and regulate the growth of neurons, resulting in improved memory formation,” Dr. Martinez-Marmol said.

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Dr. Dae Hee Lee from CNGBio Co, which was part of the research project, said lion’s mane mushrooms had been used in traditional Chinese medicine since antiquity to treat various conditions and maintain overall well-being.

“This important research is unraveling the molecular mechanism of lion’s mane mushroom compounds and their effects on brain function, particularly memory,” Lee said.

In the past, psilocybin, a hallucinogenic ingredient found in so-called magic mushrooms, has shown promise in a rising number of small studies for treating depression and end-of-life anxiety. Mushrooms have even been found to fight climate change.

The study was published in the Journal of Neurochemistry.

Study abstract:

The traditional medicinal mushroom Hericium erinaceus is known for enhancing peripheral nerve regeneration through targeting nerve growth factor (NGF) neurotrophic activity. Here, we purified and identified biologically new active compounds from H. erinaceus, based on their ability to promote neurite outgrowth in hippocampal neurons. N-de phenylethyl isohericerin (NDPIH), an isoindoline compound from this mushroom, together with its hydrophobic derivative hericene A, were highly potent in promoting extensive axon outgrowth and neurite branching in cultured hippocampal neurons even in the absence of serum, demonstrating potent neurotrophic activity. Pharmacological inhibition of tropomyosin receptor kinase B (TrkB) by ANA-12 only partly prevented the NDPIH-induced neurotrophic activity, suggesting a potential link with BDNF signaling. However, we found that NDPIH activated ERK1/2 signaling in the absence of TrkB in HEK-293T cells, an effect that was not sensitive to ANA-12 in the presence of TrkB. Our results demonstrate that NDPIH acts via a complementary neurotrophic pathway independent of TrkB with converging downstream ERK1/2 activation. Mice fed with H. erinaceus crude extract and hericene A also exhibited increased neurotrophin expression and downstream signaling, resulting in significantly enhanced hippocampal memory. Hericene A therefore acts through a novel pan-neurotrophic signaling pathway, leading to improved cognitive performance.

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