Scientists from The University of Queensland have reported that an active compound in the edible Lion’s Mane mushroom, Hericium erinaceus, can enhance nerve growth and boost memory.
Lion’s Mane has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to support the immune system and improve digestive health. In recent years, it has been promoted as a nootropic health supplement which can boost memory and cognition, however, the exact mechanisms of how this fungus improves brain function have remained unknown.
The new study showed that a compound in the mushroom, Hericene A, can help promote neurogenesis, enabling the brain to form stronger bonds between neurons in the brain.
“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,” said Professor Meunier from the Queensland Brain Institute.
“Pre-clinical testing found the lion’s mane mushroom had a significant impact on the growth of brain cells and improving memory.
“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.
“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.”
Lion’s mane is a white mushroom belonging to the tooth fungus group, native to North America, Europe, and Asia. It is easily identified by its long spines that give it the appearance of a lion’s mane, hence the name. They commonly grow on dead hardwoods in a single clump of long dangling spines during the later summer and autumn.
Dr Ramon Martinez-Marmol, a co-author of the study said the discovery had applications that could help treat and protect 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.