Extracts of Tripterygium wilfordii hook. f. (leigong teng, Thundergod vine) are effective in traditional Chinese medicine for treatment of immune inflammatory diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, nephritis and asthma. Characterisation of the terpenoids present in extracts of Tripterygium identified triptolide, a diterpenoid triepoxide, as responsible for most of the immunosuppressive, anti-inflammatory and antiproliferative effects observed in vitro. Triptolide inhibits lymphocyte activation and T-cell expression of interleukin-2 at the level of transcription. In all cell types examined, triptolide inhibits nuclear factor-kappaB transcriptional activation at a unique step in the nucleus after binding to DNA. Further characterisation of the molecular mechanisms of triptolide action will serve to elucidate pathways of immune system regulation.