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Author(s): Varsha Meshram*1, Nagendra Kumar Chandrawanshi2



    1School of Studies in Biotechnology, Pt. Ravishankar Shukla University, Raipur, Chhattisgarh, India
    2School of Studies in Biotechnology, Pt. Ravishankar Shukla University, Raipur, Chhattisgarh, India
    *Corresponding author Email:

Published In:   Volume - 4,      Issue - 1,     Year - 2022

Cite this article:
Varsha Meshram and Nagendra Kumar Chandrawanshi (2022) Bioactive Compounds and Pharmacological Activities of the Genus Cordyceps: A Review. NewBioWorld A Journal of Alumni Association of Biotechnology,4(1):13-19.

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 NewBioWorld A Journal of Alumni Association of Biotechnology (2022) 4(1):13-19            


Bioactive Compounds and Pharmacological Activities of the Genus Cordyceps: A Review

Varsha Meshram* and Nagendra Kumar Chandrawanshi

School of Studies in Biotechnology, Pt. Ravishankar Shukla University, Raipur, Chhattisgarh, India.;

*Corresponding author Email:




Article history:


28 March 2022

Received in revised form

17 June 2022


21 June 2022


Cordyceps species; Bioactive compounds; Extraction process; Pharmacological activities


For many years, traditional Chinese medicine has relied on medicinal fungi to boost the immune system and revitalize the body due to their diverse biological functions. Among the medicinal fungi, Cordyceps species have been particularly valuable because of their bioactive components that are beneficial for modern medicine and pharmacology. However, most reviews on Cordyceps have only focused on a few species and their specific pharmacological effects, leaving many other species unexplored. This review aims to fill this gap by gathering data on the pharmacological value of various Cordyceps species and their best extraction process for bioactive compounds. By doing so, we can uncover potential therapeutic applications of Cordyceps that have not been explored yet, and contribute to the development of new drugs and treatments.



Graphical Abstract:


1. Introduction

DOI: 10.52228/NBW-JAAB.2022-4-1-4

Cordyceps is a highly regarded traditional Chinese medicine that has been used for centuries. It is made up of dried fungus that grows on the bodies of caterpillars. The fungus belongs to the Cordyceps genus and is considered to have many health benefits (Ng and Wang, 2005). The term "Cordyceps" originates from the fusion of two words: "kordyle," which is a Greek word that refers to "club," and "ceps," a Latin word that means "head." Although various species of Cordyceps differ in terms of their growth location and the type of insects they infect, they share a comparable life cycle and utilize host organisms for their growth. Cordyceps typically exist in a dormant state in the soil and become active when they encounter a suitable host. They are different from other fungi because they produce a unique fruiting body and are a pathogen of insects and the fungal genus Elaphomyces. Some Cordyceps species are easier to grow than others (Kobayasi. Y, 1941). There are around 20 species of Cordyceps that attack the Elaphomyces fungi, while the rest of the species invade insects and other arthropods like spiders, beetles, bugs, wasps, termites, and butterflies (Mains, 1958). Cordyceps are a type of fungus found in many different parts of the world, particularly in humid, tropical forests and high altitude on the Himalayan plateau (Borde and Singh, 2022). They are most commonly found in North America, Europe, and Asian countries like China, Japan, and Korea. However, other species of Cordyceps have also been discovered in different environments across the globe, showing that they can grow in many different places (Winkler, 2010; Panda and Swain, 2011; Holliday and Cleaver, 2008; Li et al., 2022). The two most well-known and researched species of Cordyceps are C. sinensis and C. militaris. These fungi have been found to have positive effects on various health conditions such as respiratory, liver, and kidney problems, heart and lung diseases, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and even as potential treatments for cancer (Xiao and Zhong, 2007; Qu et al., 2022). Fermentation technology has become a popular method for mass-producing certain species of Cordyceps due to the scarcity and high cost of natural Cordyceps (Zhang et al., 2019; Sun et al., 2019). This article provides a comprehensive overview of the pharmacological acitvites of extracted bioactive compounds of known Cordyceps species.

2. Bioactive compounds

The different species of Cordyceps produce a wide variety of chemicals, both in their natural state and when grown in a lab. Some of the important groups of chemicals found in Cordyceps include nucleosides, sterols, flavonoids, cyclic peptides, phenolics, bioxanthracenes, polyketides, and alkaloids. Cyclic peptides are particularly common in Cordyceps.

2.1 Nucleosides

Most of the nucleosides discovered in Cordyceps were found in C. sinensis, C. militaris, and C. cicadae. Cordycepin is the most significant nucleoside found in Cordyceps due to its broad range of pharmacological benefits (Cunningham et al., 1950). Other nucleosides discovered in Cordyceps include adenine, adenosine, uracil, uridine, guanidine, guanosine, hypoxanthine, inosine, thymine, thymidine, and deoxyuridine (Li et al., 2006). These compounds have been shown to have strong abilities to fight cancer, viruses, inflammation, and tumors, as well as to protect the brain and act as antioxidants (Liu et al., 2015)

2.2 Polysaccharides

In recent years, scientists have become increasingly interested in the polysaccharides found in Cordyceps due to their potential medical benefits. These benefits include anti-tumor, immune-boosting, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and anti-fatigue properties (Shin et al., 2018). Researchers have also found that certain strains of Cordyceps, such as C. militaris, C. taii and C. guangdongensis (Yan et al., 2013), have specific effects, such as anti-cancer and anti-oxidant properties.

2.3 Sterols

Cordyceps species contain sterol-type compounds that have shown potent anti-tumor activity. The main sterols found in Cordyceps are ergosterol and ergosterol peroxide, but other sterols such as 3-sitosterol, campeasterol, daucosterol, and 5α,8α-epidioxy-24(R)-methyl-cholesta-6,22-dien-3β-D-glucopyranoside have also been discovered (Olatunji et al., 2018). These sterols have various pharmacological properties, such as cytotoxic, antiviral, antiarrhythmic, and the ability to alleviate immunoglobulin A nephropathy and suppress activated human mesangial cells (Li et al., 2006). Some other bioactive compounds are shown in Table 1.

3. Extraction of Major Compounds from Cordyceps spp.

Chen et al. (2013) utilized different extraction techniques to isolate specific bioactive compounds from Cordyceps spp. Aqueous extraction using water as the extraction medium was standardized by Sun et al. (2003), yielding between 25-30% and displaying antioxidant activity. Alcoholic extraction with methanol, ethanol, aqueous methanol, and aqueous ethanol was found to be effective in extracting nucleosides, polysaccharides, and proteins, resulting in strong antioxidant activity and cytotoxic effects on cancer cells (Yamaguchi et al., 2000; Jia et al., 2009). Ethyl acetate extraction, despite its low yield, was able to isolate important bioactive components such as ergosterol, cordycepin, and adenosine, and exhibited anticancer and antioxidant activities (Zhang et al., 2004; Wu et al., 2007; Wu et al., 2006). Supercritical CO2 extraction, a highly efficient and pure method, was able to extract non-polar bioactive compounds from Cordyceps and showed potent scavenging abilities and the ability to inhibit cancer cell proliferation (Wang et al., 2005).

4. Pharmacological activities

Cordyceps has been shown to have various pharmacological activities, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immunomodulatory, anti-tumor, anti-viral, anti-microbial, anti-diabetic, anti-fatigue, and anti-aging effects. Table 2 represents the pharmacological activities of Cordyceps species.




Table 1: Bioactive compounds of Cordyceps species.


Bioactive compounds






Cunningham, 1950




Qian et al., 2015; Wang et al., 2012




Sun et al., 2019


Cordysinin A


Yang et al., 2011


Cordysinin B


Yang et al., 2011




Matsuda et al., 2009




Matsuda et al., 2009


Cordycepic acid


Liu et al., 2015


Fumosoroseain A

C. fumosorosea

Buchter et al., 2020


Fumosoroseanoside A

C. fumosorosea

Buchter et al., 2020



C. fumosorosea

Chen et al., 2018


Terreusinone A

C. gracilioides

Wei et al., 2015


Pinophilin C

C. gracilioides

Wei et al., 2015


Beauvericin J

C. cicadae

Wang et al., 2014




Haritakun et al., 2010


Luteoride D

C. gunnii

Qu et al., 2022


Pseurotin G

C. gunnii

Qu et al., 2022



C. morakotii

Wang et al., 2019


Cordycicadins A-D

C. cicadae

Li et al., 2022



C. taii

Li et al., 2015


Table 2: The Pharmacological activities of Cordyceps species



Pharmacological activities


C. annullata

Plesiophthalmus nigrocyaneus and Coleopterah

Agonistic activity against cannabinoid receptor

Asai et al., 2012

C. pseudomilitaris


Antimalarial, cytotoxicity

Jaturapat et al., 2001

C. bassiana


Anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative and pro-apoptotic properties

Kim et al. 2015; Kim et al., 2014

C. cardinalis


Antitrypanosomal activity

Umeyama et al., 2014

C. cicadae

Icada flammat

Antitumor, antibacterial, immunoregulatory, renoprotective, cytotoxic and sedative effects

Kuo et al., 2003; Zhu et al., 2014

C. communis



Haritakun et al., 2010

C. kyushuensis

Clanis bilineata

Antioxidant and antitumor activity

Zhang et al., 2015

C. dipterigena



Varughese et al., 2012

C. guangdongensis


Anti-fatigue, antioxidant, prolonging life, anti-avian influenza, anti-inflammatory and in the treatment of chronic renal failure

Yan et al., 2013; Yan and Zhong, 2014

C. japonica


Antioxidant, immunostimulating, antiaging and antitumor activities

Shin et al., 2001; Shin et al., 2003

C. lanpingensis



Chen et al., 2013

C. militaris


Hypoglycemic, hypolipidemic, anti-inflammatory, antitumor, antibacterial, antifungal, marcrophage activation, antiviral, antimicrobial, antiprotozoal, prosexual, antimalarial, anti-HIV, neuroprotective, antioxidant and immuno-protective activities

Das et al., 2010; Reis et al., 2013

C. ophioglossoides

Carpinus cordata

Antitumor, estrogenic, antioxidant and anti-ageing activities

Kawagishi et al., 2004; Qinqin et al., 2012

C. pruinosa


Anti-proliferative properties

Liu et al., 2001

C. sinensis


Antitumor, cerebroprotective, antiaging, gastroprotective, immunomodulatory, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, aphrodisiac, antiproliferative and anti-fatigue activities

Sun et al., 2014; Jin et al., 2004; Wang et al., 2015; wang et al., 2005; Xiang et al., 2016; Lu et al., 2014

C. sobolifera

Cicada nymphs

Renoprotective, HIV-1 reverse transcriptase- Inhibitory activity

Chyau et al., 2014; Chiu et al., 2014; Wang et al., 2014

C. sphecocephala

Wasps and bees

Anticancer and anti-asthmatic activities

Hywel, 1995; Heo et al., 2010; Oh et al., 2008

C. unilateralis


Antimalarial and anticancer activities

Kittakoop et al., 1999

5. Future prospect and Conclusion

Although Cordyceps is generally considered safe, most of the research conducted on its pharmacological properties has been in laboratory settings. Further studies are required to confirm the fungus's safety, toxicity, and potential clinical efficacy in vivo. Moreover, more detailed documentation of the traditional uses of various Cordyceps species is necessary to guide future research into their biological activities and the identification of bioactive compounds for the development of new drugs. While earlier reviews have primarily focused on a small number of Cordyceps species, including C. militaris and C. sinensis, this review presents a comprehensive summary of many other species to assist researchers in identifying promising species or compounds for further investigation.

Conflict of interest

Authors had no conflict of interest.


The authors are thankful to the Head, School of Studies in Biotechnology, Pt. Ravishankar Shukla University Raipur, for providing necessary facilities. All figures were created with

Funding supports

The authors wish to acknowledge the Junior Research Fellowship (No. F. 82-44/2020 (SA-III, UGC-Ref. No.: 201610136180), Ministry of Education, Govt. of India, Bahadurshah Zafar Marg, New Delhi-110002, for providing funding support.


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