• Katie Floyd

Exploring the Medicinal Development of C-Phycocyanin

Updated: Apr 15

C-Phycocyanin (C-PC) is a light-harvesting, pigment-binding protein isolated from blue-green algae. C-Phycocyanin from Spirulina platensis has historically been used both as a food additive and cosmetic colorant.

However, the use of C-PC in medicine and biology has garnered increased attention. The collection of studies in this review show that C-PC functions have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antitumor, and immunity enhancement characteristics. Because C-PC has an intense fluorescence, it can also be processed into a fluorescent reagent, fluorescent probe, and fluorescent tracer, which are used in medical diagnosis, immunology, biological engineering, and other research fields. Further research has shown that C-PC is a nontoxic photosensitizer and can be used as adjunct therapy following the initial photodynamic therapy of tumors.

This research team collected and reviewed a number of studies on the isolation and purification, physicochemical properties, physiological and pharmacological activities, and safety of C-phycocyanin to provide relevant support for its development as natural medicine.


Free radicals are defined as unstable atoms that can damage cells. They are linked to a lot of diseases including atherosclerosis, cancer, reperfusion injury, and can cause general inflammation in the body. Reports show the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of C-PC can “effectively eliminate hydroxyl free radicals and oxygen free radicals” (Romay et al., 1998). Further studies indicate that C-PC has many protective effects, such as neuroprotective, hepatoprotective, renoprotective, cardiovascular protective, and elimination of cataracts in rats. A study on sodium selenite-induced cataracts in rats discovered that C-PC can adjust in vivo and in vitro antioxidant enzyme levels, which reduced oxidative stress and the incidence of cataracts (Kumari et al., 2013).


Various studies have demonstrated the anti-inflammatory effects of C-PC. One experimental model showed a reduction in the inflammatory tissue edema in 12 types of inflammatory cells (Romay et al., 2003). In another study, a nutrition preparation of C-PC was used in the treatment of osteoarthritis. That C-PC preparation was compared with the anti-inflammatory drug carprofen. Results indicated reduce various inflammatory cytokines (TNF-𝛼, interleukin-6 (IL-6), MMP-3, NO, sulfated glycosaminoglycans), all of which are closely associated with the occurrence and development of inflammation (Martinez et al., 2015).

Immune System Effects

Animal experiments conducted by Peng et al. showed that “C-PC can enhance the activity of lymphocytes, the immunity of an organism, and the body’s ability to prevent and resist disease” (Peng et al., 1999). Another study with similar results, involved C-PC-mediated photodynamic therapy (PDT) on tumors in mice. Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a treatment that uses special drugs, sometimes called photosensitizing agents, along with light to kill cancer cells. The drugs only work after they have been activated by certain kinds of light. Results showed that this application of C-PC can enhance the proliferation of immune organs and immune cells (Li et al., 2010).


Because C-PC is a natural pigment protein isolated from marine alga, research shows it is nontoxic and noncarcinogenic (Romay et al., 2000). In a study by Song et al., rats were giving varying doses of C-PC for 12 weeks. They found no adverse effect on the body weight, diet, and water intake. Routine bloodwork revealed that levels stayed in the normal ranges. Also, there was no obvious swelling, necrosis, or inflammatory reactions were observed in the liver, spleen, kidney, or any other important organ tissues (Song et al., 2012).

The review concluded that C-PC demonstrates a series of physiological and pharmacological activities (e.g., antitumor, antioxidation, anti-inflammation, and immune regulation) without causing toxicity and harm.

Read the full review: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4879233/

Romay C, Armesto J, Remirez D, González R, Ledon N, García I. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of C-phycocyanin from blue-green algae. Inflamm Res. 1998;47(1):36‐41. doi:10.1007/s000110050256.

Kumari RP, Sivakumar J, Thankappan B, Anbarasu K. C-phycocyanin modulates selenite-induced cataractogenesis in rats. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2013;151(1):59‐67. doi:10.1007/s12011-012-9526-2

Romay Ch, González R, Ledón N, Remirez D, Rimbau V. C-phycocyanin: a biliprotein with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects. Curr Protein Pept Sci. 2003;4(3):207‐216. doi:10.2174/1389203033487216.

Martinez SE, Chen Y, Ho EA, Martinez SA, Davies NM. Pharmacological effects of a C-phycocyanin-based multicomponent nutraceutical in an in-vitro canine chondrocyte model of osteoarthritis. Can J Vet Res. 2015;79(3):241‐249.

Peng W. M., Shang S. T., Fu Y. L., Liu G. Q. Properties of phycobili-proteins from Spirulina platensis . Journal of China Agricultural University. 1999;4(Z1):35–38.

Li B., Chu X., Gao M., Li W. Apoptotic mechanism of MCF-7 breast cells in vivo and in vitro induced by photodynamic therapy with C-phycocyanin. Acta Biochimica et Biophysica Sinica. 2010;42(1):80–89. doi: 10.1093/abbs/gmp104.

Romay C., Gonzalez R. Phycocyanin is an antioxidant protector of human erythrocytes against lysis by peroxyl radicals. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. 2000;52(4):367–368. doi: 10.1211/0022357001774093.

Song L. F., Liu B., Zhao Y., Tian J. Z., Qin S. Chronic toxicity study of Phycocyanin on Sprague Dawley rats. China Medical Herald. 2012;9(33):15–21.

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