Lion’s Mane Mushrooms Enhance Memory by Supporting Nerve Growth

lions mane mushroom

University of Queensland researchers have identified the substance in an edible mushroom that stimulates nerve growth and improves memory. According to Queensland Brain Institute Professor Frederic Meunier, the team discovered new active compounds from the lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus).

“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,”

Professor Meunier said. Pre-clinical research shows that the lion’s mane mushroom significantly affected how brain cells grew and improved memory.

Promotes Neuron Projections

how hericium erinaceus mushroom enhances nerve growth
Credit: Journal of Neurochemistry (2023). DOI: 10.1111/jnc.15767

The neurotrophic effects of compounds isolated from Hericium erinaceus on cultured brain cells were studied in the lab, and the team discovered 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,”

said Meunier.

Dr. Ramon Martinez-Marmol of UQ, a co-author, stated that the discovery could be used to 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.

Adds To Previous Research Evidence

Previously, Hericium erinaceus extracts were found to have neuroprotective effects in peripheral nerve injury, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. Compounds derived from H. erinaceus extracts have been shown to stimulate the production of nerve growth factors. The bioactive hericenones and erinacines are known to effectively cross the blood-brain barrier as well.

One part of the study involved twenty adult pregnant female Sprague Dawley rats, from whom hippocampal neurons were extracted following ethically approved euthanasia. Another part of the work involved 50 adult wild-type male mice. Mice fed H. erinaceus crude extract and hericene A also had increased neurotrophin expression and downstream signalling, which resulted in significantly improved hippocampal memory.

The study authors believe this study is the first to identify a brain-derived neurotrophic factor signalling-enhancing activity for H. erinaceus and to identify hericene A as an active component for this neurotrophic function in vitro and in vivo.

Hericium erinaceus, also known as lion’s mane mushroom, mountain-priest mushroom, or bearded tooth fungus, is an edible mushroom in the tooth fungus family. It is native to North America, Europe, and Asia and is distinguished by its long spines, presence on hardwoods, and proclivity to form a single clump of dangling spines.

  1. Martínez-Mármol, R., Chai, Y., Conroy, J. N., Khan, Z., Hong, S.-M., Kim, S. B., Gormal, R. S., Lee, D. H., Lee, J. K., Coulson, E. J., Lee, M. K., Kim, S. Y., & Meunier, F. A. (2023). Hericerin derivatives activates a pan-neurotrophic pathway in central hippocampal neurons converging to ERK1/2 signaling enhancing spatial memory. Journal of Neurochemistry, 00, 1– 18