Immunomodulatory effects of Sceletium tortuosum (Trimesemine™) elucidated in vitro: Implications for chronic disease

J Ethnopharmacol. 2018 Mar 25;214:134-140. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2017.12.020. Epub 2017 Dec 16.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: Sceletium tortuosum, among other Sceletium species, was traditionally used by the Khoisan people of Southern Africa for relief of pain-related ailments. However, the commercial availability of this supplement has greatly expanded due to anecdotal claims of its mood-elevating and anxiolytic properties. Unrelated research has elucidated a significant link between cytokines and the mediation of depression. Therefore, the effect of Sceletium supplementation on immune cell functionality is of interest, since the efficacy of potential depression treatments could, at least in part, rely on downregulation of pro-inflammatory signalling.

Aim of the study: The current study evaluated the immunomodulatory effects of a Sceletium extract, both basally and in the context of acute endotoxin stimulation.

Materials and methods: Primary human monocytes were supplemented with either a 0.01mg/ml or 1mg/ml Sceletium extract dose, with or without E. coli LPS stimulation in vitro, for 24h. Mitochondrial viability, as an indirect measure of cytotoxicity, and cytokine release in response to the treatment intervention were assessed.

Results: Sceletium extract treatment was associated with increased mitochondrial viability, as well as up-regulated IL-10 release under basal conditions. LPS exposure significantly decreased mitochondrial viability, but this was prevented completely under Sceletium-treated conditions. The acute inflammatory response to LPS stimulation was not negatively affected. Sceletium treatment conferred most significant effects at a dose of 0.01mg/ml.

Conclusions: Sceletium exerts significant cytoprotective effects in the setting of endotoxin stimulation. Cytokine assessment indicated that Sceletium possesses mild anti-inflammatory properties, but does not hinder the mounting of an adequate immune response to acute immune challenge. These findings indicate that Sceletium may be beneficial for the attenuation of cytokine-induced depression, as well as in systemic low-grade inflammation.

Keywords: Alternative medicine; Anti-inflammatory; Cytokine; LPS; Monocyte; Sceletium tortuosum.

MeSH terms

  • Aizoaceae* / chemistry
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / isolation & purification
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Cytoprotection
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / isolation & purification
  • Immunologic Factors / pharmacology*
  • Lipopolysaccharides / toxicity
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / pathology
  • Monocytes / drug effects*
  • Monocytes / metabolism
  • Monocytes / pathology
  • Phytotherapy
  • Plant Extracts / isolation & purification
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology*
  • Plants, Medicinal


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Cytokines
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Plant Extracts