Cat's claw is an herbal medicine from the Amazon that is used widely to treat inflammatory disorders. The purpose of this study was to characterize the antioxidative and antiinflammatory properties of cat's claw, Uncaria tomentosa (UT) and Uncaria guianensis (UG). Alkaloids and flavanols were determined using reversed-phase HPLC; scavenging of 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrilhydrazyl (DPPH), hydroxyl radicals, and lipid peroxidation by spectrophotometry; and TNFalpha production by ELISA. Anti-inflammatory activity was assessed in vitro by inhibition of TNFalpha and nitrite production from RAW 264.7 cells exposed to LPS (50 ng/ml) and in vivo using the indomethacin-induced gastritis model. Apoptosis was assessed using the TUNEL technique and TNFalpha mRNA by in situ RT-PCR. In each of the antioxidant assays tested, UG was more potent than UT (P < 0.01). The total oxindole and pentacyclic alkaloid content of UT was 35-fold > UG. The IC50 value for inhibition of TNFalpha production was significantly (P < 0.01) higher for UT (14.1 ng/ml) vs UG (9.5 ng/ml), yet at concentrations that were considerable lower than that required for antioxidant activity. Non-alkaloid HPLC fractions from UT decreased LPS-induced TNFalpha and nitrite production in RAW 264.7 cells (P < 0.01) at a concentration range comparable to the parent botanical. Oral pretreatment for 3 d with UT protected against indomethacin-induced gastritis, and prevented TNFalpha mRNA expression and apoptosis. These results indicate that while both species of cat's claw provide effective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities, U. guianensis is more potent. In conclusion, the presence of oxindole or pentacyclic alkaloids did not influence the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of cat's claw.