Coriolus versicolor

Oncology, ONCOLOGY Vol 22 No 13, Volume 22, Issue 13

SCIENTIFIC NAMES: Coriolus versicolor, Trametes versicolor, Polyporus versicolor, Polystictus versicolor

ABSTRACT: Integrative Oncology is the synthesis of mainstream care and nonpharmacologic, evidence-based complementary therapies for the control of cancer-related physical and emotional symptoms. Herb-drug interactions and other cautions are also encompassed. This month, in the first of two installments about medicinal mushrooms, we review Coriolus versicolor, which is widely used in cancer therapies in Asia. In the November 30 issue of ONCOLOGY, this column will address the use of a second type of medicinal mushroom called maitake.

PolysaccharideK (PSK), a protein-bound polysaccharide isolated from Coriolus versicolor, is widely used in Asia as an adjuvant agent in the treatment of cancer. Research into the biologic mechanisms underlying the anticancer effects of PSK is ongoing, but PSK appears promising. More than 2 dozen human studies of PSK have been reviewed by experts at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Almost all of these studies were done in Japan and focused on cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon, or breast. Most of them found that people with cancer were helped by PSK. People who received PSK along with other treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy, generally had longer disease-free periods and increased survival rates compared with patients who got only standard treatment. Side effects from PSK in these studies were very mild. Smaller studies have suggested PSK may not be as effective against liver cancer or leukemia. Adverse effects are rare with use of medicinal mushrooms. However, because over-the-counter Coriolus products are not standardized, and because medicinal mushrooms may interfere with immunosuppressant medications, patients should use caution and consult their physicians before taking medicinal mushroom supplements.

SCIENTIFIC NAMES: Coriolus versicolor, Trametes versicolor, Polyporus versicolor, Polystictus


ALSO KNOWN AS: PSK, PSP, VPS, turkey tail, yun zhi, kawaratake, Krestin

BACKGROUND: Coriolus versicolor is a mushroom of the Basidiomycetes class. These are fungi with gills or pores, the group that includes the familiar edible mushrooms. Coriolus is used not as food, but as medicine ingested as capsules, as an extract, or as a tea. It was applied initially in traditional Chinese medicine as a tonic, but recent studies indicate immunostimulant and antitumor properties for which its proteoglycan constituents are responsible.

RESEARCH: Polysaccharide K (PSK), a proprietary product derived from Coriolus, was developed for cancer treatment in Japan. When used as an adjuvant agent, PSK enhanced immune response in vivo[1] and improved survival rates in patients with gastric[2] and colorectal cancers.[3]

Other Coriolus extracts, such as polysaccharide peptide (PSP) and versicolor polysaccharide (VPS), are available as dietary supplements. Preliminary studies show that these extracts reduce chemotherapy toxicity, increase effectiveness of chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and have antiproliferative and cytotoxic activities.[4] When used with chemotherapy, PSP may benefit patients with advanced non–small-cell lung cancer.[5]

Clinical investigations using Coriolus extract alone or in combination with other botanicals also suggest positive immunomodulatory effects.[6,7]



1. Raghupati G, Yeung KS, Leung PC, et al: Evaluation of widely consumed botanicals as immunological adjuvants. Vaccine 26:4860-4865, 2008.
2. Oba K, Teramukai S, Kobayashi M, et al: Efficacy of adjuvant immunochemotherapy with polysaccharide K for patients with curative resections of gastric cancer. Cancer Immunol Immunother 56:905-911, 2007.
3. Sakamoto J, Morita S, Oba K, et al: Efficacy of adjuvant immunochemotherapy with polysaccharide K for patients with curatively resected colorectal cancer: A meta-analysis of centrally randomized controlled clinical trials. Cancer Immunol Immunother 55:404-411, 2006.
4. Lau CB, Ho CY, Kim CF, et al: Cytotoxic activities of Coriolus versicolor (Yunzhi) extract on human leukemia and lymphoma cells by induction of apoptosis. Life Sci 75:797-808, 2004.
5. Tsang KW, Lam CL, Yan C, et al: Coriolus versicolor polysaccharide peptide slows progression of advanced non-small cell lung cancer. Respir Med 97:618-624, 2003.
6. Wong CK, Tse PS, Wong EL, et al: Immunomodulatory effects of yun zhi and danshen capsules in health subjects-a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. Int Immunopharmacol 4:201-211, 2004.
7. Wong CK, Bao YX, Wong EL, et al: Immunomodulatory activities of Yunzhi and Danshen in post-treatment breast cancer patients. Am J Chin Med 33:381-395, 2005.
For additional information visit the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Integrative Medicine Service free website, “About Herbs” at