Tibet mushroom may hold key for asthmatics

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A RARE wild mushroom that grows in the remote mountains of Tibet could be used as a new treatment for asthma.

The parasitic fungus is found on hibernating caterpillars and contains the extract cordycepin that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.

The compound has already been identified as a promising cancer drug and scientists now believe it could also be used for asthma as well as rheumatoid arthritis, kidney failure and stroke.

A study by scientists at Nottingham University published in the journal RNA found the compound cordycepin reduces inflammation in muscle cells that contract during an asthma attack.

Until now it was unclear how cordycepin could bring about so many different beneficial effects at the cellular level.

Pharmacist Dr Cornelia de Moor said: “We have shown cordycepin reduces the expression of inflammatory genes in airway smooth muscle cells by acting on the final step in the synthesis of their messenger 
ribonucleic acids which carry the chemical blueprint for the synthesis of proteins.

“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 – for example ibuprofen.

“These findings indicate cordycepin acts by a completely different mechanism than currently used anti-inflammatory drugs, making it a potential drug for patients in which these drugs do not work well.”