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Lion’s Mane Mushroom May Boost Brain Cell Growth and Memory

A lion's mane mushroom on a tree.

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In pre-clinical trials using mice, researchers have shown that lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) may improve memory and brain cell growth.

The study was conducted at the University of Queensland, in collaboration with researchers from the Republic of Korea’s Gachon University and Chungbuk National University. The study is published in the Journal of Neurochemistry.

Centuries of traditional use

Frederic Meunier, a professor at the Queensland Brain Institute, who was the study’s senior author, commented “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.”

Meunier and team isolated a compound called N-de phenylethyl isohericerin (NDPIH) from the mushroom which, along with a derivative compound called hericene A, increased the growth of cultured neurons taken from the hippocampus.

“Using super-resolution microscopy, we found the mushroom extract and its active components largely increase the size of growth cones,” said Meunier. Growth cones are structures found at the end of neurites, projections that extend from neurons seeking connections. “[These structures] are particularly important for brain cells to sense their environment and establish new connections with other neurons in the brain,” Meunier added. 

Potential applications

Further analysis in mice showed that animals fed lion’s mane showed increased levels of brain growth factor activity and improved memory in behavioral tests.

Meunier’s colleague Dr. Ramon Martinez-Marmol said, “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.”

Martinez-Marmol hopes that further study can reveal potential applications for natural compounds in restoring human memory and cognition.

Reference:  Martínez-Mármol R, Chai Y, Conroy JN, et al. Hericerin derivatives activates a pan-neurotrophic pathway in central hippocampal neurons converging to ERK1/2 signaling enhancing spatial memory. J Neurochem. 2023. doi:10.1111/jnc.15767

Meet the Author
Ruairi J Mackenzie
Ruairi J Mackenzie
Senior Science Writer