Tripterygium wilfordii

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Tripterygium wilfordii
Tripterygium regelii 1.JPG
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Celastrales
Family: Celastraceae
Genus: Tripterygium
T. wilfordii
Binomial name
Tripterygium wilfordii

Tripterygium wilfordii, or léi gōng téng (Mandarin) (Chinese :雷公藤, Japanese: raikōtō), sometimes called thunder god vine but more properly translated thunder duke vine, is a vine used in traditional Chinese medicine.


Tripterygium wilfordii has been promoted for use in rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis; however, due to safety concerns this use is not recommended. [1] Evidence is insufficient to deem it effective as a method of birth control for humans. [2] A 2021 study published in Nature found that one chemical isolated from the herb, triptonide, was an effective male birth control in mice and non-human primates, while others chemicals present in the herb have been previously shown to cause severe liver toxicity. [3] Extracts of the bark T. wilfordii have been used as an insecticide in China for centuries, [4] as documented in Wu Qijun’s 1848 Illustrated Catalogues of Plants. [5]

Health effects

The United Kingdom government does not recommend the use of Tripterygium due to potential side effects. [1]

Birth control

Evidence is lacking that Tripterygium is either safe or effective as a method of birth control in men. [2] Two trials found less sperm in people taking it for rheumatoid arthritis but these trials were observational in nature. [2] A 2021 study in the journal Nature found that triptonide, a chemical isolated from Tripterygium, was an effective birth control for male mice and male cynomolgus monkeys, but noted that other chemicals present in the plant cause severe toxicity, so consuming the herb or general extracts of the herb for birth control purposes is potentially dangerous. [3]

Rheumatoid arthritis

In China, T. wilfordii has historically been used as a treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).[ citation needed ] The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has noted tentative evidence that T. wilfordii may improve some RA symptoms. [6] Serious side effects, however, occur frequently enough to make the risks of taking it higher than the possible benefits. [6]

Other bioactive chemicals

Wilfortrine is a sesquiterpene alkaloid isolated from T. wilfordii. It has immunomodulatory effects. [7]

Side effects

At medicinal doses, T. wilfordii extract can have significant side effects, [6] including immunosuppression.

In August 2011, the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency published a drug safety bulletin advising consumers not to use medicines containing lei gong teng due to potentially serious side effects. [8]

China State Food and Drug Administration issued a warning in April 2012 about this medicine, urging caution. [9]

A 2016 review found gastrointestinal symptoms in 13%, adverse reproductive outcomes in 12%, adverse skin reactions in 8%, hematologic events in 6.5%, cardiovascular events in 5%. Also irregular menstruation OR=4.6. [10]

A 2011 review stated that although T. wilfordii has toxic potential, careful extraction gives an acceptable frequency of adverse reactions, which are largely related to the gastrointestinal tract and amenorrhea. The review found that T. wilfordii extract is useful remedy for postmenopausal rheumatoid arthritis. [11]


Chemical structure of triptolide Triptolide.svg
Chemical structure of triptolide

Celastrol, a pentacyclic triterpenoid, and triptolide, a diterpene triepoxide, are putative active components of the extracts derived from Tripterygium wilfordii. [12] Triptolide has pharmacological activities including anti-inflammatory, immune modulation, antiproliferative, and proapoptotic activity, but its clinical use is limited by severe toxicity. [13] The biological target of triptolide is believed to be the XPB subunit of the TFIIH protein complex (involved in DNA repair and transcription initiation). [14]

Tripfordines are bio-active sesquiterpene pyridine alkaloids of T. wilfordii. [15]

To aid the investigation of pathways related to celastrol, a reference genome of T. wilfordii was sequenced, producing a 340.12 Mb genome with 31,593 structural genes (35 of them, CYP genes involved in the synthesis of the alkaloid active ingredients). [16]


  1. 1 2 "Traditional Chinese medicines containing lei gong teng (tripterygium wilfordii) Drug Safety Update". 8 August 2011. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 Lopez, LM; Grimes, DA; Schulz, KF (November 2005). "Nonhormonal drugs for contraception in men: a systematic review". Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey. 60 (11): 746–52. doi:10.1097/01.ogx.0000182905.71077.13. PMID   16250923. S2CID   24106472.
  3. 1 2 Chang, Zongliang; Qin, Weibing; Zheng, Huili; Schegg, Kathleen; Han, Lu; Liu, Xiaohua; Wang, Yue; Wang, Zhuqing; McSwiggin, Hayden; Peng, Hongying; Yuan, Shuiqiao (2021-02-23). "Triptolide is a reversible non-hormonal male contraceptive agent in mice and non-human primates". Nature Communications. 12 (1): 1253. Bibcode:2021NatCo..12.1253C. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-21517-5 . ISSN   2041-1723. PMC   7902613 . PMID   33623031.
  4. Luo, DQ, Zhang X, Tian X, Liu JK (2004). "Insecticidal Compounds from Tripterygium wilfordii Active against Mythimna separata". Zeitschrift für Naturforschung C. 59 (5–6): 421–426. doi:10.1515/znc-2004-5-624. PMID   18998413. S2CID   24660951.
  5. 1 2 3 "Rheumatoid Arthritis and Complementary Health Approaches". National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Retrieved 21 April 2013.
  6. Zheng, YL; Xu, Y; Lin, JF (1989). "Immunosuppresive effects of wilfortrine and euonine". Yao Xue Xue Bao = Acta Pharmaceutica Sinica. 24 (8): 568–72. PMID   2618700.
  7. Drug Safety Update: Traditional Chinese medicines containing lei gong teng (tripterygium wilfordii)
  8. 中医・我が愛しの上海へ/理想の中医学・漢方を求めて-
  9. Zhang, C; Sun, PP; Guo, HT; Liu, Y; Li, J; He, XJ; Lu, AP (8 November 2016). "Safety Profiles of Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis". Frontiers in Pharmacology. 7: 402. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2016.00402 . PMC   5099241 . PMID   27877128.
  10. Bao J.; Dai S.-M. (September 2011). "A Chinese herb Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis: Mechanism, efficacy, and safety". Rheumatology International. 31 (9): 1123–1129. doi:10.1007/s00296-011-1841-y. PMID   21365177. S2CID   22419352.
  11. Salminen, Antero; Lehtonen, Marko; Paimela, Tuomas; Kaarniranta, Kai (2010). "Celastrol: Molecular targets of Thunder God Vine". Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. 394 (3): 439–442. doi:10.1016/j.bbrc.2010.03.050. PMID   20226165.
  12. Liu, Qiuyan (2011). "Triptolide and its expanding multiple pharmacological functions". International Immunopharmacology. 11 (3): 377–383. doi:10.1016/j.intimp.2011.01.012. PMID   21255694.
  13. Titov, Denis V.; Gilman, Benjamin; He, Qing-Li; Bhat, Shridhar; Low, Woon-Kai; Dang, Yongjun; Smeaton, Michael; Demain, Arnold L.; Miller, Paul S.; Kugel, Jennifer F.; Goodrich, James A.; Liu, Jun O. (2011). "Xpb, a subunit of tFiih, is a target of the natural product triptolide". Nature Chemical Biology. 7 (3): 182–188. doi:10.1038/nchembio.522. PMC   3622543 . PMID   21278739.
  14. Horiuch, M; Murakami, C; Fukamiya, N; Yu, D; Chen, TH; Bastow, KF; Zhang, DC; Takaishi, Y; Imakura, Y; Lee, KH (2006). "Tripfordines A-C, sesquiterpene pyridine alkaloids from Tripterygium wilfordii, and structure anti-HIV activity relationships of Tripterygium alkaloids". J Nat Prod. 69 (9): 1271–4. doi:10.1021/np060124a. PMID   16989518.
  15. Pei T, Yan M, Kong Y, Fan H, Liu J, Cui M, Fang Y, Ge B, Yang J, Zhao Q (February 2021). "The genome of Tripterygium wilfordii and characterization of the celastrol biosynthesis pathway". Gigabyte. 1: 1–30. doi: 10.46471/gigabyte.14 .

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"Tripterygium wilfordii Hook.f., known as Leigongteng in traditional Chinese medicine, has attracted much attention for its applications in relieving autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus, and for treating cancer. Molecular analyses of the ITS and 5S rDNA sequences indicate that T. hypoglaucum and T. doianum are not distinct from T. wilfordii, while T. regelii should be recognized as a separate species. The results also demonstrate potential value of rDNA sequence data in forensic detection of adulterants derived from Celastrus angulatus in commercial samples of Leigongteng."

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