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How Chinese Herb Thunder God Vine Works


With a name like thunder god vine, you might expect some significant benefits from this Chinese herb, and for some people who take it for rheumatoid arthritis, it seems to be helpful. Now researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine have discovered how thunder god vine works, and their find may lead to new uses for the herb in fighting cancer.

Thunder god vine and its ingredient triptolide

Thunder god vine is a perennial plant native to China, Korea, and Japan, and it has been used for more than 400 years in traditional Chinese medicine to treat conditions that involve inflammation and an overly active immune system, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.

Although the active ingredient called triptolide found in thunder god vine (Tripterygium wilfordii) has been credited with stopping cell growth, until now scientists did not know how it does. Now they believe they do.

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According to study author Jun O. Liu, PhD, a professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences at Johns Hopkins, triptolide has demonstrated the ability to block the growth of all 60 National Cancer Institute cell lines when administered at very low doses and has caused some cell lines to die.

Triptolide has also been shown to disrupt proteins that can activate genes, which led Liu and his team to explore how triptolide might affect different proteins involved with controlling genes by examining how much new DNA, RNA, and protein is produced in cells. When they looked at the enzymes that make RNA, they discovered that triptolide blocked only one, RNAPII.

Because RNAPII does not work alone, the researchers kept searching and finally identified the protein that triptolide directly attaches itself to and blocks the activity of: the XPB protein. They then tested to determine whether the interaction between triplotide and XPB really stopped cell growth, and it did.

Liu noted that the ability of triptolide to stop the activity of RNAPII explains its anti-inflammatory and anticancer benefits. He and his team are eager to see what future research will uncover about the cancer-fighting abilities of thunder god vine and its active ingredient triptolide.

Johns Hopkins School of Medicine news release