Triptolide induces apoptotic death of T lymphocyte

Immunopharmacology. 1998 Aug;40(2):139-49. doi: 10.1016/s0162-3109(98)00036-8.


Extract of Tripterygium wilfordii Hook. f (TWHf) has immunosuppressive activity and has been used as anti-inflammatory agent in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Recent studies have demonstrated that triptolide is the major active component in the extract that inhibits antigen or mitogen-induced T cell proliferation. In attempting to investigate its effect on activation of T lymphocytes, we found triptolide induces apoptotic death of T cell hybridomas and peripheral T cells but not that of thymocytes. The triptolide-induced apoptosis is accompanied by increase of DEVD-cleavable caspases activity and degradation of caspase substrate poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP). A specific inhibitor of caspases, zVAD-FMK, prevents triptolide-induced PARP degradation and DNA fragmentation but not growth arrest. Furthermore, enforced expression of Bcl-2 inhibited triptolide-induced degradation of PARP and apoptosis. These results indicate that triptolide induces T cell apoptosis through activating caspases, and suggest the growth arrest and apoptotic effect of triptolide may contribute to the immunosuppressive activity of TWHf extract.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Diterpenes / pharmacology*
  • Enzyme Activation / drug effects
  • Epoxy Compounds
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacology*
  • Interleukin-2 / biosynthesis
  • Lymphocyte Activation / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Phenanthrenes*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / physiology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / physiology
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology


  • Diterpenes
  • Epoxy Compounds
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Interleukin-2
  • Phenanthrenes
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos
  • triptolide
  • Caspases