Mistletoe, a semiparasitic plant, holds interest as a potential anticancer agent because extracts derived from it have been shown to kill cancer cells in vitro [1-8] Reviewed in[9,10] and to stimulate immune system cells both in vitro and in vivo .[11-19] Reviewed in [10,20-24] Two components of mistletoe, namely viscotoxins and lectins, may be responsible for these effects.[11-13,17-19,25-31] Reviewed in [10,21-23,32] Viscotoxins are small proteins that exhibit cell-killing activity and possible immune-system-stimulating activity.[1,6,18,19] Reviewed in [33,34] Lectins are complex molecules made of both protein and carbohydrates that are capable of binding to the outside of cells (e.g., immune system cells) and inducing biochemical changes in them. Reviewed in [10,35-38] In view of mistletoe’s ability to stimulate the immune system, it has been classified as a type of biological response modifier. Reviewed in  Biological response modifiers constitute a diverse group of biological molecules that have been used individually, or in combination with other agents, to treat cancer or to lessen the side effects of anticancer drugs. Mistletoe extracts have been demonstrated in preclinical settings to have other mechanisms of action, such as antiangiogenesis.
Preparations from mistletoe extracts are most frequently used in the treatment of cancer patients in German-speaking countries. Commercially available extracts are marketed under a variety of brand names, including Iscador, Eurixor, Helixor, Isorel, Iscucin, Plenosol, and Abnoba-viscum. Some extracts are marketed under more than one name. Iscador, Isorel, and Plenosol are also sold as Iscar, Vysorel, and Lektinol, respectively. All of these products are prepared from Viscum album (Loranthaceae) (Viscum album L. or European mistletoe). They are not sold as a drug in the United States.
Mistletoe grows on several types of trees, and the chemical composition of extracts derived from it depends on the species of the host tree (e.g., apple, elm, oak, pine, poplar, and spruce), the time of year harvested, how the extracts are prepared, and the commercial producer.[46,47] Reviewed in [8,36,48,49]
Mistletoe extracts are prepared as aqueous solutions or solutions of water and alcohol, and they can be fermented or unfermented.[6,46] Reviewed in [4,20,47,50-53] Some extracts are prepared according to homeopathic principles, and others are not. Reviewed in [10,54] In addition, the commercial products can be subdivided according to the species of host tree. Iscador, a fermented aqueous extract of Viscum album L. that is prepared as a homeopathic drug, is marketed as IscadorM (from apple trees), IscadorP (from pine trees), IscadorQ (from oak trees), and IscadorU (from elm trees). Helixor, an unfermented aqueous extract of Viscum album L. that is standardized by its biological effect on human leukemia cells in vitro, is marketed as HelixorA (from spruce trees), HelixorM (from apple trees), and HelixorP (from pine trees). Reviewed in  Eurixor, an unfermented aqueous extract of Viscum album L. harvested from poplar trees, is reportedly standardized to contain a specific amount of one of mistletoe’s lectins (i.e., the lectin ML-1; refer to the History section of this summary for more information). Reviewed in  Some proponents contend the choice of extract should depend on the type of tumor and the gender of the patient. Reviewed in [49,51,56]
A recombinant ML-1 from Escherichia coli bacteria known as rViscumin or aviscumine has been studied in the laboratory and in phase I clinical trials. Since this is not an extract of mistletoe, it is out of the purview of this summary.
Mistletoe extracts are usually given by subcutaneous injection, although administration by other routes (i.e., oral, intrapleural, intratumoral, and intravenous) has been described.[17,21-23,32,58-63] Reviewed in [20,24,36,49,51,54] In most reported studies, subcutaneous injections were given 2 to 3 times a week, but the overall duration of treatment varied considerably.
Viscum album is listed in the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States, which is the officially recognized compendium for homeopathic drugs in this country. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has regulatory authority over homeopathic drugs, this authority is usually not exercised unless the drugs are formulated for injection or there is evidence of severe toxicity. At present, the FDA does not allow the importation or distribution of injectable preparations of mistletoe, including homeopathic formulations, except for the purpose of clinical research. The extracts are not available commercially in the United States and are not approved as a treatment for people with cancer.
Before researchers can conduct clinical drug research in the United States, they must file an Investigational New Drug (IND) application with the FDA. IND approval is also required for clinical investigation of homeopathic drugs. The FDA does not disclose information about IND applications or approvals; this information can be released only by the applicants. At least two U.S. investigators were given IND approval to study mistletoe as a treatment for people with cancer (NCCAM-02-AT-260 and TJUH-01F.45). The final clinical trial results have not been reported.
In this summary, the mistletoe extract or product used in each study will be specified wherever possible.References
- Jung ML, Baudino S, Ribéreau-Gayon G, et al.: Characterization of cytotoxic proteins from mistletoe (Viscum album L.). Cancer Lett 51 (2): 103-8, 1990. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Kuttan G, Vasudevan DM, Kuttan R: Effect of a preparation from Viscum album on tumor development in vitro and in mice. J Ethnopharmacol 29 (1): 35-41, 1990. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Walzel H, Jonas L, Rosin T, et al.: Relationship between internalization kinetics and cytotoxicity of mistletoe lectin I to L1210 leukaemia cells. Folia Biol (Praha) 36 (3-4): 181-8, 1990. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Janssen O, Scheffler A, Kabelitz D: In vitro effects of mistletoe extracts and mistletoe lectins. Cytotoxicity towards tumor cells due to the induction of programmed cell death (apoptosis). Arzneimittelforschung 43 (11): 1221-7, 1993. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Jurin M, Zarković N, Hrzenjak M, et al.: Antitumorous and immunomodulatory effects of the Viscum album L. preparation Isorel. Oncology 50 (6): 393-8, 1993 Nov-Dec. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Schaller G, Urech K, Giannattasio M: Cytotoxicity of different viscotoxins and extracts from the European subspecies Viscum album L. Phytother Res 10 (6): 473-7, 1996.
- Gabius HJ, Darro F, Remmelink M, et al.: Evidence for stimulation of tumor proliferation in cell lines and histotypic cultures by clinically relevant low doses of the galactoside-binding mistletoe lectin, a component of proprietary extracts. Cancer Invest 19 (2): 114-26, 2001. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Maier G, Fiebig HH: Absence of tumor growth stimulation in a panel of 16 human tumor cell lines by mistletoe extracts in vitro. Anticancer Drugs 13 (4): 373-9, 2002. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Franz H: Mistletoe lectins and their A and B chains. Oncology 43 (Suppl 1): 23-34, 1986. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Mengs U, Göthel D, Leng-Peschlow E: Mistletoe extracts standardized to mistletoe lectins in oncology: review on current status of preclinical research. Anticancer Res 22 (3): 1399-407, 2002 May-Jun. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Hostanska K, Hajto T, Spagnoli GC, et al.: A plant lectin derived from Viscum album induces cytokine gene expression and protein production in cultures of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Nat Immun 14 (5-6): 295-304, 1995. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Beuth J, Stoffel B, Ko HL, et al.: Immunomodulating ability of galactoside-specific lectin standardized and depleted mistletoe extract. Arzneimittelforschung 45 (11): 1240-2, 1995. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Lenartz D, Stoffel B, Menzel J, et al.: Immunoprotective activity of the galactoside-specific lectin from mistletoe after tumor destructive therapy in glioma patients. Anticancer Res 16 (6B): 3799-802, 1996 Nov-Dec. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Fischer S, Scheffler A, Kabelitz D: Oligoclonal in vitro response of CD4 T cells to vesicles of mistletoe extracts in mistletoe-treated cancer patients. Cancer Immunol Immunother 44 (3): 150-6, 1997. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Preisfeld A: Influence of aqueous mistletoe preparations on humoral immune parameters with emphasis on the cytotoxicity of human complement in breast cancer patients. Forsch Komplementarmed 4 (4): 224-8, 1997.
- Chernyshov VP, Omelchenko LI, Heusser P, et al.: Immunomodulatory actions of Viscum album (Iscador) in children with recurrent respiratory disease as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Complement Ther Med 5 (3): 141-6, 1997.
- Heiny BM, Albrecht V, Beuth J: Correlation of immune cell activities and beta-endorphin release in breast carcinoma patients treated with galactose-specific lectin standardized mistletoe extract. Anticancer Res 18 (1B): 583-6, 1998 Jan-Feb. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Stein GM, Schaller G, Pfüller U, et al.: Characterisation of granulocyte stimulation by thionins from European mistletoe and from wheat. Biochim Biophys Acta 1426 (1): 80-90, 1999. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Stein GM, Schaller G, Pfüller U, et al.: Thionins from Viscum album L: influence of the viscotoxins on the activation of granulocytes. Anticancer Res 19 (2A): 1037-42, 1999 Mar-Apr. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Mistletoe. In: Murray MT: The Healing Power of Herbs. Roseville, Calif: Prima Publishing, 1995, pp 253-9.
- Lenartz D, Dott U, Menzel J, et al.: Survival of glioma patients after complementary treatment with galactoside-specific lectin from mistletoe. Anticancer Res 20 (3B): 2073-6, 2000 May-Jun. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Steuer-Vogt MK, Bonkowsky V, Ambrosch P, et al.: The effect of an adjuvant mistletoe treatment programme in resected head and neck cancer patients: a randomised controlled clinical trial. Eur J Cancer 37 (1): 23-31, 2001. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Goebell PJ, Otto T, Suhr J, et al.: Evaluation of an unconventional treatment modality with mistletoe lectin to prevent recurrence of superficial bladder cancer: a randomized phase II trial. J Urol 168 (1): 72-5, 2002. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Stauder H, Kreuser ED: Mistletoe extracts standardised in terms of mistletoe lectins (ML I) in oncology: current state of clinical research. Onkologie 25 (4): 374-80, 2002. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Frohne D, Pfander HJ: Viscum album. In: Frohne D, Pfander HJ: Giftpflanzen: ein Handbuch für Apotheker, Ärzte, Toxikologen und Biologen. 3rd rev. ed. Stuttgart, Germany: Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft, 1987, pp 179-80.
- Pusztai A, Grant G, Pfuller U, et al.: Nutritional and metabolic effects of mistletoe lectin ML-1 (type 2 RIP) in the rat. In: European Cooperation in the Field of Scientific and Technical Research.: COST 98: Effects of Antinutrients on the Nutritional Value of Legume Diets. Brussels, Belgium: European Commission, Directorate-General XII, Science, Research and Development, 1998, pp 164-7.
- Pusztai A, Grant G, Gelencsér E, et al.: Effects of an orally administered mistletoe (type-2 RIP) lectin on growth, body composition, small intestinal structure, and insulin levels in young rats. J Nutr Biochem 9 (1): 31-6, 1998.
- Ewen SWB, Bardocz S, Grant G, et al.: The effects of PHA and mistletoe lectin binding to epithelium of rat and mouse gut. In: European Cooperation in the Field of Scientific and Technical Research.: COST 98: Effects of Antinutrients on the Nutritional Value of Legume Diets. Brussels, Belgium: European Commission, Directorate-General XII, Science, Research and Development, 1998, pp 221-5.
- Pryme IF, Bardocz S, Grant G, et al.: The plant lectins PHA and ML-1 suppress the growth of a lymphosarcoma tumour in mice. In: European Cooperation in the Field of Scientific and Technical Research.: COST 98: Effects of Antinutrients on the Nutritional Value of Legume Diets. Brussels, Belgium: European Commission, Directorate-General XII, Science, Research and Development, 1998, pp 215-20.
- Tubeuf KFv, Neckel G, Marzell H: Monographie der Mistel. Munchen, Berlin: R. Oldenbourg, 1923.
- Teuscher E: Viscum album. In: Hansel R, Keller K, Rimpler H, et al.: Hagers Handbuch der Pharmazeutischen Praxis, Vol. 6. 5th ed. Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag, 1994, pp 1160-83.
- Grossarth-Maticek R, Kiene H, Baumgartner SM, et al.: Use of Iscador, an extract of European mistletoe (Viscum album), in cancer treatment: prospective nonrandomized and randomized matched-pair studies nested within a cohort study. Altern Ther Health Med 7 (3): 57-66, 68-72, 74-6 passim, 2001 May-Jun. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Capernaros Z: The golden bough: the case for mistletoe. Eur J Herbal Med 1 (1):19-24, 1994.
- Schrader G, Apel K: Isolation and characterization of cDNAs encoding viscotoxins of mistletoe (Viscum album). Eur J Biochem 198 (3): 549-53, 1991. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Gabius HJ, Gabius S, Joshi SS, et al.: From ill-defined extracts to the immunomodulatory lectin: will there be a reason for oncological application of mistletoe? Planta Med 60 (1): 2-7, 1994. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Samtleben R, Hajto T, Hostanska K, et al.: Mistletoe lectins as immunostimulants (chemistry, pharmacology and clinic). In: Wagner H, ed.: Immunomodulatory Agents from Plants. Basel, Switzerland: Birkhauser Verlag, 1999, pp 223-41.
- Abdullaev FI, de Mejia EG: Antitumor effect of plant lectins. Nat Toxins 5 (4): 157-63, 1997. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Kilpatrick DC: Mechanisms and assessment of lectin-mediated mitogenesis. Mol Biotechnol 11 (1): 55-65, 1999. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Elluru SR, VAN Huyen JP, Delignat S, et al.: Antiangiogenic properties of viscum album extracts are associated with endothelial cytotoxicity. Anticancer Res 29 (8): 2945-50, 2009. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Horneber MA, Bueschel G, Huber R, et al.: Mistletoe therapy in oncology. Cochrane Database Syst Rev (2): CD003297, 2008. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Khil LY, Kim W, Lyu S, et al.: Mechanisms involved in Korean mistletoe lectin-induced apoptosis of cancer cells. World J Gastroenterol 13 (20): 2811-8, 2007. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Kim MS, Lee J, Lee KM, et al.: Involvement of hydrogen peroxide in mistletoe lectin-II-induced apoptosis of myeloleukemic U937 cells. Life Sci 73 (10): 1231-43, 2003. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Choi SH, Lyu SY, Park WB: Mistletoe lectin induces apoptosis and telomerase inhibition in human A253 cancer cells through dephosphorylation of Akt. Arch Pharm Res 27 (1): 68-76, 2004. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Romagnoli S, Fogolari F, Catalano M, et al.: NMR solution structure of viscotoxin C1 from Viscum album species Coloratum ohwi: toward a structure-function analysis of viscotoxins. Biochemistry 42 (43): 12503-10, 2003. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Yoon TJ, Yoo YC, Kang TB, et al.: Antitumor activity of the Korean mistletoe lectin is attributed to activation of macrophages and NK cells. Arch Pharm Res 26 (10): 861-7, 2003. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Ribéreau-Gayon G, Jung ML, Di Scala D, et al.: Comparison of the effects of fermented and unfermented mistletoe preparations on cultured tumor cells. Oncology 43 (Suppl 1): 35-41, 1986. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Jäggy C, Musielski H, Urech K, et al.: Quantitative determination of lectins in mistletoe preparations. Arzneimittelforschung 45 (8): 905-9, 1995. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Zee-Cheng RK: Anticancer research on Loranthaceae plants. Drugs Future 22 (5): 519-30, 1997.
- Kaegi E: Unconventional therapies for cancer: 3. Iscador. Task Force on Alternative Therapies of the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Initiative. CMAJ 158 (9): 1157-9, 1998. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Stein G, Berg PA: Non-lectin component in a fermented extract from Viscum album L. grown on pines induces proliferation of lymphocytes from healthy and allergic individuals in vitro. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 47 (1): 33-8, 1994. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Kleijnen J, Knipschild P: Mistletoe treatment for cancer: review of controlled trials in humans. Phytomedicine 1: 255-60, 1994.
- Wagner H, Jordan E, Feil B: Studies on the standardization of mistletoe preparations. Oncology 43 (Suppl 1): 16-22, 1986. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Zarkovic N, Vukovic T, Loncaric I, et al.: An overview on anticancer activities of the Viscum album extract Isorel. Cancer Biother Radiopharm 16 (1): 55-62, 2001. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Mellor D: Mistletoe in homoeopathic cancer treatment. Prof Nurse 4 (12): 605-7, 1989. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Fellmer KE: A clinical trial of Iscador: follow-up treatment of irradiated genital carcinomata for the prevention of recurrences. Br Homeopath J 57: 43-7, 1968.
- Kjaer M: Mistletoe (Iscador) therapy in stage IV renal adenocarcinoma. A phase II study in patients with measurable lung metastases. Acta Oncol 28 (4): 489-94, 1989. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Schöffski P, Riggert S, Fumoleau P, et al.: Phase I trial of intravenous aviscumine (rViscumin) in patients with solid tumors: a study of the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer New Drug Development Group. Ann Oncol 15 (12): 1816-24, 2004. [PUBMED Abstract]
- Matthes HF, Schad F, Buchwald D, et al.: Endoscopic ultrasound-guided fine-needle Injection of Viscum album L. (mistletoe; Helixor M) in the therapy of primary inoperable pancreas cancer: a pilot study. [Abstract] Gastroenterology 128 (Suppl 2): A-T988, A433-A434, 2005.
- Matthes HF, Schad F, Schenk G: Viscum album in the therapy of primary inoperable hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). [Abstract] Gastroenterology 126 (Suppl 2): A-755, A101-A102, 2004.
- Schaefermeyer G, Schaefermeyer H: Treatment of pancreatic cancer with Viscum album (Iscador): a retrospective study of 292 patients 1986-1996. Complement Ther Med 6 (4): 172-7, 1998.
- Kleeberg UR, Brocker EB, Lejeune F, et al.: Adjuvant trial in melanoma patients comparing rlFN-alpha to rlFN-gamma to Iscador to a control group after curative resection of high risk primary (>=3mm) or regional lymphnode metastasis (EORTC 18871). [Abstract] Eur J Cancer 35 (Suppl 4): A-264, s82, 1999.
- Heiny BM, Albrecht V, Beuth J: Stabilization of quality of life with mistletoe lectin-1-standardized extract in advanced colorectal carcinoma. Onkologe 4 (Suppl 1): S35-9, 1998.
- Wetzel D, Schäfer M: Results of a randomised placebo-controlled multicentre study with PS76A2 (standardised mistletoe preparation) in patients with breast cancer receiving adjuvant chemotherapy. [Abstract] Phytomedicine 7 (Suppl 2): A-SL-66, 2000.
- Viscum album. In: Homoeopathic Pharmacopoeia Convention of the United States.: Homoeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States. Washington, DC: 2002, Monograph 9444 Visc.