Plumbagin (5-hydroxy-2-methyl-1, 4-naphthoquinone), a quinone isolated from the roots of Plumbago zeylanica was recently reported to suppress the activation of NF-kappaB in tumor cells. NF-kappaB, a ubiquitous transcription factor, plays a central role in regulating diverse processes in leukocytes like cellular proliferation, expression of immunoregulatory genes and apoptosis during innate and adaptive immune responses. Consequently, plumbagin might affect the biological functions of leukocytes participating in various immune responses. The present report describes novel immunomodulatory effects of plumbagin. Plumbagin inhibited T cell proliferation in response to polyclonal mitogen Concanavalin A (Con A) by blocking cell cycle progression. It also suppressed expression of early and late activation markers CD69 and CD25 respectively, in activated T cells. At these immunosuppressive doses (up to 5 microM), plumbagin did not reduce the viability of lymphocytes. Further, the inhibition of T cell proliferation by plumbagin was accompanied by a decrease in the levels of Con A induced IL-2, IL-4, IL-6 and IFN-gamma cytokines. Similar immunosuppressive effects of plumbagin on cytokine levels were seen in vivo. To characterize the mechanism of inhibitory action of plumbagin, the mitogen induced IkappaB-alpha degradation and nuclear translocation of NF-kappaB was studied in lymphocytes. Plumbagin completely inhibited Con A induced IkappaB-alpha degradation and NF-kappaB activation. Further, plumbagin prevented Graft Versus Host Disease-induced mortality in mice. To our knowledge this is the first report showing the immunomodulatory effects of plumbagin in lymphocytes via modulation of NF-kappaB activation.