Cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa) is a medicinal plant from the Amazon River basin that is widely used for inflammatory disorders and was previously described as an inhibitor of NF-kappaB. Cat's claw was prepared as a decoction (water extraction) of micropulverized bark with and without concentration by freeze-drying. Murine macrophages (RAW 264.7 cells) were used in cytotoxicity assays (trypan blue exclusion) in response to the free radical 1, 1-diphenyl-2-picrilhydrazyl (DPPH, 0.3 microM) and ultraviolet light (UV) light. TNFalpha production was induced by lipopolysaccharide (LPS 0.5 microg/ml). Cat's claw was an effective scavenger of DPPH; the EC(50) value for freeze-dried concentrates was significantly less than micropulverized (18 vs. 150 microg/ml, p <.05). Cat's claw (10 microg/ml freeze-dried) was fully protective against DPPH and UV irradiation-induced cytotoxicity. LPS increased TNFalpha media levels from 3 to 97 ng/ml. Cat's claw suppressed TNFalpha production by approximately 65-85% (p <.01) but at concentrations considerably lower than its antioxidant activity: freeze-dried EC(50) = 1.2 ng/ml, micropulverized EC(50) = 28 ng/ml. In conclusion, cat's claw is an effective antioxidant, but perhaps more importantly a remarkably potent inhibitor of TNFalpha production. The primary mechanism for cat's claw anti-inflammatory actions appears to be immunomodulation via suppression of TNFalpha synthesis.