Nutrients 2020, 12, 609; doi:10.3390/nu12030609 www.mdpi.com/journal/nutrients
Characterisation of Extracts and Anti-Cancer
Activities of Fomitopsis pinicola
Karen S. Bishop *
Discipline of Nutrition and Dietetics/Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre, School of Medical Sciences,
Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Auckland, 85 Park Road, Grafton,
Auckland 1023, New Zealand; firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel.: +64-9-923-4471
Received: 23 January 2020; Accepted: 24 February 2020; Published: 26 February 2020
Abstract: Fomitopsis pinicola (Sw. Karst) is a common bracket fungus, with a woody texture. It is
found predominantly in coniferous forests in temperate regions throughout Europe and Asia.
Fomitopsis pinicola has been extensively used for medicinal purposes, particularly in Chinese and
Korean traditional medicine. In this mini-review, the anti-cancer characteristics of F. pinicola extracts
were investigated. In vitro experiments revealed the pro-apoptotic, anti-oxidant and anti-
inflammatory properties of extracts, whilst two of three in vivo studies reported an inhibition of
tumour growth and prolonged survival. Only studies wherein fungal specimens were sourced from
Europe or Asia were included in this review, as samples sourced as F. pinicola from North America
were probably not F. pinicola, but a different species. Although not one of the most revered fungal
species, F. pinicola has been used as a medicinal fungus for centuries, as well as consumed as a health
food supplement. To date, the results from only three in vivo studies, investigating anti-cancer
properties, have been published. Further studies, using comprehensively identified specimens, are
required to fully elucidate the anti-cancer properties of F. pinicola extracts.
Keywords: anti-cancer properties; extracts; Fomitopsis pinicola; location; medicinal history; sequence
Fomitopsis pinicola (Sw. Karst), is a common woody fungus found in coniferous forests in
temperate regions throughout Europe and Asia , including the Himalayas . Numerous local
names exist for F. pinicola, such as the Japanese name, which is Tsugasaruno-koshikake , and the
English name of red-belted bracket fungus . Fomitopsis pinicola is commonly known as a brown-rot
fungus, characterised by bipolar sexual compatibility and the presence of the phenol oxidase,
tyrosinase (with extracellular oxidase not present) . It has been used in Chinese and Korean
traditional folk medicine as an anti-inflammatory agent and for general well-being.
The fruiting body is fan shaped, has a hard, woody texture, can grow up to 40 cm in diameter
(Figure 1), and is often referred to as the red belt conk. The fruiting body has a glossy appearance and
can be red-brown or a lighter colour depending on the age of the specimen. It grows by adding an
additional layer or tube annually. The fungus is saprobic and can also be parasitic, causing heart rot
in living trees, and brown cuboidal rot in dead trees . Decay fungi such as F. pinicola are often
thought to be symbiotic and this could be due to the presence of fungi and nitrogen fixing bacteria at
the same sites on fir trees . In addition, they help circulate forest nutrients through the decay of
dead tree trunks, although the brown rot residues can remain in the soil for extended periods before
breaking down [6,7]. However, F. pinicola and other brown rot species can also contribute
significantly to forestry loses, particularly at sites where the bark has been damaged as might occur
when branches are removed.
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Fomitopsis pinicola, like many other fungi, are predominantly identified phenotypically, but
require molecular biology techniques to confirm the identification. Internal spacer region (ITS)2
sequencing is a suitable method that is routinely used for the correct identification of numerous
species, including F. pinicola. Unfortunately, it can appear phenotypically similar to Ganoderma lingzhi
and other species of the genus Fomitopsis, and therefore it is important to confirm the speciation of
the specimen one is working with prior to publication.
A literature review of the anti-cancer properties of F. pinicola was performed using Embase, Web
of Science and Google Scholar. Articles, published in English, where an in vitro and/or in vivo
approach was implemented to investigate the anti-cancer properties of F. pinicola extracts, were
included. Due to extensive fungal species misidentification , taxonomy and means of accurate
identification of F. pinicola were also explored. Search terms included “Fomitopsis pinicola”+ “cancer”
+ “in vivo.” Thereafter “anti-inflammatory” was substituted for “cancer”, and an additional article was
returned. In a similar manner “in vitro” was substituted for “in vivo”, and “Fomitopsis pinicola” +
“taxonomy” were also searched. Pearly growing was implemented. This article is not a systematic
review and, together with the implementation of pearly growing, it was decided not to include numbers
and justification for article inclusion and exclusion.
2. The Taxonomy of F. Pinicola
Fungi are poorly, and sometimes incorrectly, described . More recently, sequence-based
classification and identification (SBCI) has been used to detect and classify environmental fungi and
also to confirm or dispute identification or classification of named specimens. The ITS of rRNA genes
can be PCR-amplified and sequenced, and this method is commonly used for SBCI . Further, 16S
rRNA sequences may also be used for this purpose, but it is regarded as less accurate than ITS
sequencing, as the latter is less highly conserved and is therefore more likely to vary from one species
to another . To help avoid misidentifications, Edgar recommends the sequencing of two rather
than one variable region, which could include V3, V4, V5 and ITS, or full-length 16s rRNA or large
subunit rRNA genes [8,9]. With the integration and standardisation of stand-alone databases, and the
incorporation of phylogenetic trees into pipelines used to identify or name specimens, data will be
easier to incorporate into databases and therefore more likely to be deposited, and easier to access,
thus strengthening the accuracy of fungal identification .
F. pinicola, an ancient polypore species, is classified according to the Integrated Taxonomic
Information System  as follows:
Species: F. pinicola
Fomitopsis pinicola was originally named in 1810 as Boletus pinicola by Swartz and then transferred
to Fomitopsis by Petter Karsten in 1881 [11,12]. Fomitopsis pinicola (Swartz ex Fr.) P. Karst. (1881) was
also named as Polyporus pinicola Fr.  before sequencing was used to clearly define the species. More
recently, Binder et al. performed whole-genome sequencing using a shotgun approach, and classified
F. pinicola in the antrodia clade .
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Figure 1. Basidomes of Fomitopsis pinicola in situ. These specimens were identified as F. pinicola by
internal spacer region 2 sequencing . (Permission was obtained from NZFocus to utilise this image.)
In 2016, Haight et al. reported on an investigation into the suspected F. pinicola complex .
Based on samples collected in North America, Europe and Asia and phenotypically identified as F.
pinicola, four distinct species were identified, with only F. pinicola found in Europe and Asia. The
other three species were found in different regions of North America [1,14]. For this reason, articles
based on samples collected outside of Europe and Asia were not included in this review article.
F. pinicola is widely available and has been extensively used for medicinal purposes, particularly
in Chinese traditional medicine . However, the use of F. pinicola in Central European folk
medicine has been largely forgotten . Like many hardwood bracket fungi, it is believed that F.
pinicola specimens were traditionally prepared for consumption as a soup/tea or in alcohol .
Although not one of the most revered fungal species, F. pinicola (Sw Karst) has been used as a
medicinal fungus for centuries for the treatment of headaches, nausea and liver disease , as well
as in health food supplements [15,16].
3. Active Ingredients
For centuries, medicinal mushrooms have been used by various cultures to enhance health.
Pharmacologic research into medicinal mushrooms, using in vitro, in vivo and clinical studies, has
been used to identify several health benefits and their associated biological pathways . However,
very little research has been carried out on F. pinicola. A variety of extraction methods, whole extracts,
fractions and compounds isolated from the mushroom, have been tested. Many of these are listed in
Table 1. Studies carried out on specimens sourced from North America were not include (e.g., Liu et
Table 1. Extraction method and fraction or compound detected from F. pinicola specimens.
Citation Extraction method Details of method Fraction/Compound/Concentration
Gao et al. 2017,
95% ethanol or
methanol for 8 to
10 hours at room
washed in water,
0.210 µM GAE/mg
Heated at 100 °C
for 2 to 3 hours; 4
0.185 µM GAE/mg
Ethyl acetate NT. 0.464 µM GAE/mg
Petroleum ether NT. 0.389 µM GAE/mg
Wu et al. 2014,  Ethanol
times with 50%
ethanol or water
for 24 h. The
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filtered, the solvent
distillation and the
Gao et al. 2017,  Chloroform/ethanol
were dried and
the powder was
95% ethanol at 45
°C and subjected to
centrifuged and the
Ergosterol (105 µg/mg)
Pachymic acid (35.6 µg/mg)
Dehydroeburicoic acid (2.5 µg/mg).
Kao et al. 2018;
Kao et al. 2016, [13,21,22]
whiskey or rice
wine for six
freeze dried. The
(56.4% and 43.6% total weight
Yoshikawa et al. 2005,  Ethanol
Submerged in 70%
ethanol for six
EtOAc and H2O
EtOAc extract was
silica gel column
and some fractions
Lanostane triterpenes: Fomitopinic
acid A and B
Lanostanoid glycosides: Fomitoside
Keller et al. 1996,  Dichloro-methane
polyporenic acid C,
pinicolic acid A,
trametenolic acid B
and pachymic acid21-oic acid
EtOAc—Ethyl acetate; GAE—gallic acid equivalents; HPLC—high-performance liquid
chromatography; NT—not tested.
Although Table 1 includes the compounds that were detected in F. pinicola using different
extraction methods, the anti-cancer activities were not assessed. Various phytochemicals have been
shown to have specific anti-cancer properties, but it is generally accepted that these compounds
Nutrients 2020, 12, 609 5 of 9
probably act synergistically to achieve an anti-cancer effect . Wang et al. identified ergosterol in
a chloroform extract from F. pinicola and observed anti-cancer properties such as a pro-apoptotic and
inhibition of migration effects . Further, in a study published by Yoshikawa et al., fomitopinic
acids and fomitosides inhibited cyclooxygenase (COX) 1 and 2 activity . Although many of the
compounds detected in F. pinicola have not been assessed in isolation, some of the compounds have
been isolated from other species and found to have anti-cancer properties e.g., gallic acid . Based
on the available evidence, it is not possible to determine exactly which compounds exert the strongest
anti-cancer properties, and further research is required.
4. Anti-Cancer Activities
Medicinal properties of mushrooms, based on hearsay, have been recorded for thousands of
years—for example, Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi) has been used for general well-being since before
the 5th century by the Chinese ; Formes fomentarius has been used as a potent anti-inflammatory
agent by the Greeks (450 BC) ; and puffball mushrooms of the genus Calvatia, have been used for
centuries by Native Americans to promote wound healing . More recently, medicinal mushrooms
have been used as an adjuvant to cancer therapy to enhance the effects of treatment and for the
alleviation of side effects from chemo- and radiation therapy (e.g., nausea) . Furthermore,
numerous clinical trials have been conducted to assess the potential anti-cancer properties of both in-
house and commercially prepared medicinal mushrooms . Fewer than ten in vitro studies on
cancer cell lines have been published, but the number of in vivo publications on F. pinicola are even
4.1. In Vitro Studies
Numerous cell culture experiments have been used to investigate the anti-cancer properties of
F. pinicola extracts. These studies have been outlined in Table 2.
Table 2. In vitro studies in which the anti-cancer properties of F. pinicola were investigated.
Citation Cell line* Cancer
Choi et al. 2007, 
N/A N/A Not specified N/A N/A
HeLa Cervix Water
HO-1 Melanoma Water
SNU-354 Liver Water
SNU-185 Liver Water
Hep3B Liver Water
Hep3B Liver Water
PLC/RF/5 Liver Water
Wu et al.2014, 
(mouse) Sarcoma Water
Increased CC3, APAF-1
HepG2 Hepatoma Water
Increased CC3; NT; NT
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A549 Lung Water
Increased CC3; NT; NT
HCT-116 Colon Water
Increased CC3; NT; NT
MB-231 Breast Water
Increased CC3; NT; NT
Gao et al. 2017, 
(mouse) Sarcoma FPKc NT 36.2
Induced late stage
HL-60 Leukemia FPKc NT 41.0 NT
K562 Leukemia FPKc NT 98.9 NT
U937 Leukemia FPKc NT 34.9 NT
7721 Hepatoma FPKc NT 246.2 NT
Eca-109 Esophageal FPKc NT 169.7 NT
Wang et al. 2014, 
SW-480 Colon FPKc NT 190.3
Inhibits cell migration and
SW-640 Colon Ergosterol
NT 143.3 Induced cell apoptosis
Kao et al. 2018;
Kao et al. 2016
PC3 Prostate WhE NC NT
Upregulation of pro-
apoptotic genes, and
down-regulation of anti-
Significant changes in
gene expression associated
with cell-cycle pathways,
DU145 Prostate WhE NC NT
Significant changes in
gene expression associated
with cell-cycle pathways,
Yoshikawa et al. 2005,  N/A N/A
in response to COX 1 and
*All cell lines are of human origin, unless otherwise stated. + IC50 was measured at 72 h in µg/ml.
Abbreviations: APAF1-apoptotic peptidase activating factor 1; CC3—cleaved caspase 3; COX-
cyclooxygenase; C-PARP—cleaved-poly ADP ribose polymerase; FPKc—F. pinicola chloroform
extract; IC50—half maximal inhibitory concentration; MMP—mitochondrial membrane potential;
N/A-not applicable; NC—not comparable (reported in µl); NT—not tested/not reported; WhE—
Hanahan and Weinberg described various hallmarks of cancer , which have enabled us to
study the impact of extracts/compounds on these hallmarks (e.g., evasion of programmed cell death)
and their related pathways, rather than on cancer directly. Underlying these hallmarks are
mechanisms such as inflammation, genome instability and the creation of a tumour
microenvironment . Many of the in vitro studies outlined in Table 2 showed an increase in anti-
oxidant activity, increase in apoptosis [19,26] or an upregulation of pro-apoptotic genes [21,22],
and anti-inflammatory activity . In addition, PARP, which is involved in DNA repair, genomic
Nutrients 2020, 12, 609 7 of 9
stability and programmed cell death, increased in response to treatment in a sarcoma cell line .
Cell cycle dysregulation is another hallmark of cancer  and may be a target of the mechanism of
action of FPKc. This reasoning is supported by in vitro evidence showing the inhibition of cell
proliferation; damage to cell membrane in sarcoma but not healthy cells; the triggering of S-phase
cell cycle arrest; a decrease in MMP and release of mitochondrial cytochrome C . Together, these
in vitro studies show that F. pinicola extracts/compounds have anti-cancer activities which warrant
4.2. In Vivo Studies
A small number of in vivo studies have been performed wherein the anti-cancer properties of F.
pinicola were investigated. These studies are listed in Table 3. In two of the studies S-180 sarcoma cells
were used to induce a xenograft [19,20], and in the remaining study, PC3 prostate cancer cells were
used . The extracts (ethanol and chloroform) were both active against the sarcoma xenograft and
inhibited growth, but the powder obtained from an F. pinicola ethanol extract showed no activity
against the prostate cancer xenograft. The discrepancy in the results is thought to be due to the lack
of bioavailability of the ethanol powder extract, as well as treatment at a later stage of disease .
In addition to the three studies described in Table 3, Choi et al. also carried out an animal
experiment whereby rats received 0.83 g/kg of mushroom for two weeks following the administration
of ethanol for two weeks . Glutathione, glutathione peroxidase and catalase were all found to be
significantly higher in the intervention versus the control group . Glutathione is an anti-oxidant
and, together with glutathione peroxidase and catalase, protects the cell against oxidative damage,
and thus can exert an anti-tumour effect.
Table 3. In vivo studies in which the anti-cancer properties of F. pinicola were investigated.
design Treatment Type of
Wu et al.2014, 
1.5–5 g/kg; 3
and 7 days
Inhibition of tumour growth
(growth inhibitory ratio = 54%
compared to control) and
prolonged survival (40%
survival in the control group,
and 60%–70% survival in the
intervention groups at day 30).
Gao et al. 2017, 
200 mg/kg; 7
days prior to
Inhibition of tumour growth
(inhibition rate = 47.7%
compared to control) and
prolonged survival (control
group–survival ranged from 12
to 15 days, and the intervention
group, survival ranged from 15
to 19 days.
Kao, 2019, 
1 g/kg once
extract as a
Oral gavage Dose was tolerated. No
Abbreviations: FPKc—chloroform extract of F. pinicola; ICR—institute of cancer research.
In a rat model with diabetes induced by streptozotocin, F. pinicola treatment decreased glucose
levels, restored insulin levels to nearly normal, and pancreatic tissue damage was ameliorated .
The alkali extract was more effective than the water extract at reducing the harmful effects of
streptozotocin induced diabetes . Enhanced glucose uptake, and therefore hyperglycaemia, is a
metabolic characteristic of cancer cells, and therefore the link between diabetes and cancers  is not
surprising. Although the in vivo study by Lee et al. focused on the impact of F. pinicola extracts on
diabetes, the benefits could be extrapolated to the treatment of cancers. This hyperglycaemic effect,
in the context of cancers, should be investigated further.
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The most obvious limitation of this review is the lack of certainty surrounding the identity of the
specimens used in the studies we discuss. For example, Gao et al. 2017 state that F. pinicola is
traditionally categorized as Reishi , yet Reishi is identified as Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi) . It
is therefore unclear as to whether Gao et al. studied G. lucidum or F. pinicola and the method of species
identification is not stated.
Another limitation includes the small number of in vivo studies performed. The fact that only
three in vivo studies have been carried out, whereby the anti-cancer properties of F. pinicola were
investigated, indicates the paucity of data and the need to carry out further studies in different cancer
In conclusion, further research is required to characterise the anti-cancer activities of F. pinicola
as there is a paucity of data, particularly from in vivo and clinical studies. It would be useful to
identify the bioactive components of F. pinicola and build on the research performed by Wang et al.
and Gao et al. [19,26]. In particular, care must be taken to correctly identify each specimen using
molecular techniques, prior to experimentation. Like many food components, F. pinicola has the
potential to reduce the risk of disease. The advantage of investigating the anti-cancer benefits of F.
pinicola is that the mushroom is not toxic as shown by anecdotal evidence over centuries, as well as
in vivo studies. In addition, it is widely available and is affordable.
Funding: This research received no external funding
Acknowledgments: Proof reading by Renee Alumasa is acknowledged and appreciated.
Conflicts of Interest: The author declares no conflict of interest.
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