Immunomodulatory effects and mechanisms of plant alkaloid tetrandrine in autoimmune diseases

Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2002 Dec;23(12):1093-101.


Autoimmune diseases characterized by activation of immune effector cells and damage of target organs are currently treated with a combination of several disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) that preserve different immunomodulatory mechanisms. Such a combination treatment strategy not only provides synergistic effects but also reduces side effects from individual drug. Tetrandrine (Tet), purified from a creeper Stephania tetrandra S Moore, is a bis-benzylisoquinoline alkaloid and has been used to treat patients with silicosis, autoimmune disorders, and hypertension in Mainland China for decades. The accumulated studies both in vitro and in vivo reveal that Tet preserves a wide variety of immunosuppressive effects. Importantly, the Tet-mediated immunosuppressive mechanisms are evidently different from some known DMARDs. The synergistic effects have also been demonstrated between Tet and other DMARDs like FK506 and cyclosporin. These results highlight Tet a very potential candidate to be considered as one of DMARDs in the treatment of autoimmune diseases, especially rheumatoid arthritis. This review summarizes evidence-based in vivo and in vitro studies on this potential Chinese immunosuppressive herb.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / isolation & purification
  • Alkaloids / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / pathology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / pathology*
  • Benzylisoquinolines / isolation & purification
  • Benzylisoquinolines / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacology*
  • Lymphocyte Activation / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology


  • Alkaloids
  • Benzylisoquinolines
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • tetrandrine