Affiliation: Department of Medical Oncology, Nagoya Memorial Hospital, 4-305 Hirabari, Tenpaku-ku, Nagoya, 468-8520, Japan.
Natural compounds containing fungal β-glucans have been used to improve general health for thousands of years in China and Japan. Lentinan, the backbone of β-(1, 3)-glucan with β-(1, 6) branches, is one of the active ingredients purified from Shiitake mushrooms and has been approved as a biological response modifier for the treatment of gastric cancer in Japan. Despite recent advances in chemotherapeutic agents, unresectable or recurrent gastric cancer remains an incurable disease, with survival rates being far from satisfactory. Recent clinical studies have shown that chemo-immunotherapy using lentinan prolongs the survival of patients with advanced gastric cancer, as compared to chemotherapy alone. In addition, trastuzumab, an antibody against HER2/neu growth factor receptor, has been used for the treatment of gastric cancer in combination with cytotoxic chemotherapeutic agents. Lentinan may exert a synergistic action with anti-cancer monoclonal antibodies to activate complement systems through the mechanism of antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity and complement dependent cytotoxicity. Because a better understanding of its biological activities should enable us to use lentinan more efficiently in the treatment of gastric cancer, immunological effects provided by β-glucans, a possible mode of action of lentinan, and its clinical application including future potential uses are discussed in the present review.