Uncaria tomentosa stimulates the proliferation of myeloid progenitor cells

J Ethnopharmacol. 2011 Sep 1;137(1):856-63. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2011.07.011. Epub 2011 Jul 8.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: The Asháninkas, indigenous people of Peru, use cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa) to restore health. Uncaria tomentosa has antioxidant activity and works as an agent to repair DNA damage. It causes different effects on cell proliferation depending on the cell type involved; specifically, it can stimulate the proliferation of myeloid progenitors and cause apoptosis of neoplastic cells. Neutropenia is the most common collateral effect of chemotherapy. For patients undergoing cancer treatment, the administration of a drug that stimulates the proliferation of healthy hematopoietic tissue cells is very desirable. It is important to assess the acute effects of Uncaria tomentosa on granulocyte-macrophage colony-forming cells (CFU-GM) and in the recovery of neutrophils after chemotherapy-induced neutropenia, by establishing the correlation with filgrastim (rhG-CSF) treatment to evaluate its possible use in clinical oncology.

Materials and methods: The in vivo assay was performed in ifosfamide-treated mice receiving oral doses of 5 and 15 mg of Uncaria tomentosa and intraperitoneal doses of 3 and 9 μg of filgrastim, respectively, for four days. Colony-forming cell (CFC) assays were performed with human hematopoietic stem/precursor cells (hHSPCs) obtained from umbilical cord blood (UCB).

Results: Bioassays showed that treatment with Uncaria tomentosa significantly increased the neutrophil count, and a potency of 85.2% was calculated in relation to filgrastim at the corresponding doses tested. An in vitro CFC assay showed an increase in CFU-GM size and mixed colonies (CFU-GEMM) size at the final concentrations of 100 and 200 μg extract/mL.

Conclusions: At the tested doses, Uncaria tomentosa had a positive effect on myeloid progenitor number and is promising for use with chemotherapy to minimize the adverse effects of this treatment. These results support the belief of the Asháninkas, who have classified Uncaria tomentosa as a 'powerful plant'.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Animals
  • Cat's Claw* / chemistry
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Fetal Blood / cytology
  • Filgrastim
  • Granulocyte Colony-Stimulating Factor / administration & dosage
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Progenitor Cells / drug effects
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Ifosfamide
  • Injections, Intraperitoneal
  • Male
  • Medicine, Traditional
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Myeloid Progenitor Cells / drug effects*
  • Myeloid Progenitor Cells / metabolism
  • Myeloid Progenitor Cells / pathology
  • Neutropenia / chemically induced
  • Neutropenia / drug therapy*
  • Neutropenia / metabolism
  • Neutropenia / pathology
  • Neutrophils / drug effects*
  • Neutrophils / metabolism
  • Neutrophils / pathology
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Plant Extracts / administration & dosage
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / isolation & purification
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Plants, Medicinal
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Recombinant Proteins / administration & dosage


  • Plant Extracts
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Granulocyte Colony-Stimulating Factor
  • Filgrastim
  • Ifosfamide