Background: Consumption of edible mushrooms has been suggested to improve health. A number of isolated mushroom constituents have been shown to modulate immunity. Five commonly consumed edible mushrooms were tested to determine whether whole mushrooms stimulate the immune system in vitro and in vivo. Results: The white button (WB) extracts readily stimulated macrophage production of TNF-α. The crimini, maitake, oyster and shiitake extracts also stimulated TNF-α production in macrophage but the levels were lower than from WB stimulation. Primary cultures of murine macrophage and ovalbumin (OVA) specific T cells showed that whole mushroom extracts alone had no effect on cytokine production but co-stimulation with either lipopolysacharide or OVA (respectively) induced TNF-α, IFN-γ, and IL-1β while decreasing IL-10. Feeding mice diets that contained 2% WB mushrooms for 4 weeks had no effect on the ex vivo immune responsiveness or associated toxicity (changes in weight or pathology of liver, kidney and gastrointestinal tract). Dextran sodium sulfate (DSS) stimulation of mice that were fed 1% WB mushrooms were protected from DSS induced weight loss. In addition, 2% WB feeding protected the mice from transient DSS induced colonic injury. The TNF-α response in the colon and serum of the DSS challenged and 2% WB fed mice was higher than controls. Conclusion: The data support a model whereby edible mushrooms regulate immunity in vitro. The in vivo effects of edible mushrooms required a challenge with DSS to detect small changes in TNF-α and transient protection from colonic injury. There are modest effects of in vivo consumption of edible mushrooms on induced inflammatory responses. The result is not surprising since it would certainly be harmful to strongly induce or suppress immune function following ingestion of a commonly consumed food.
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