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Trypterigium wilfordii
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Celastrales
Family: Celastraceae
Genus: Tripterygium
Species: T. wilfordii
Binomial name
Tripterygium wilfordii
Hook.f.

Tripterygium wilfordii, or lei gong teng (Chin. 雷公籐), sometimes called Thunder God Vine, is a vine used in traditional Chinese medicine for treatment of fever, chills, edema and carbuncle. Tripterygium wilfordii recently has been investigated as a treatment for a variety of disorders including rheumatoid arthritis, chronic hepatitis, chronic nephritis, ankylosing spondylitis, as well as several skin disorders.

It is also under investigation for its apparent antifertility effects, which it is speculated, may provide a basis for a Male oral contraceptive.

Scientific research on medical effects

Certain extracts from Tripterygium wilfordii, as well as from Trypterigium hypoglaucum and Tripterygium regeli, were discovered in the 1980s to have temporary antifertility effects, which has led to research on its potential as a contraceptive.

Not enough is known about T. wilfordii to actually test it as a contraceptive. Research thus far has dealt with establishing the mechanism by which the plant affects fertility, and investigating toxicity and side effects. What has been learned is encouraging, however: in both animals and humans, low doses of various Tripterygium extracts can produce significantly lowered sperm density and motility indices without major side effects. When the treatment was ended in the various trials, all indices returned to normal within months.

The plant contains many active compounds, at least six of which have male anti-fertility effect (triptolide, tripdiolide, triptolidenol, tripchlorolide, 16-hydroxytriplide and a compound known as T7/19, whose structure is unpublished). The mechanism by which they affect fertility is not yet understood. What is known is that daily doses of these compounds reduce sperm counts and also severely affect the formation and maturation of sperm, causing them to be immotile.

At medicinal doses, T. wilfordii extract does have significant side effects, including immuno-suppression. However, this may not apply to contraceptive use. Many of the side effects are caused by the other active compounds found in the plant, and do not appear when a pure extraction of the anti-fertility agents is used. In addition, the dose required to lower fertility is significantly lower than the standard medicinal dose.

T. wilfordii could be an effective pharmaceutical alternative to contraceptives based on hormonal manipulation. Further research may shed light on its functional mechanisms, and determine whether it could be used at low enough doses to avoid unpleasant side effects.

More recently, a small molecule Triptolide derived from T. wilfordii has been shown to disrupt mitochondrial function in cells and is under investigation as an anti-tumor agent or to suppress auto-immune disorders.

The August 18th 2009 Edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine published an article showing Tripterygium wilfordii was more effective than sulfasalazine in treating rheumatoid arthritis.

See also

References

  • Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;599:139-46.
  • Journal of Andrology 1998; vol 19 no 4, pp 479-486.
  • Contraception 1995; vol 51, pp 121-129.
  • Contraception 1995; vol 51, pp 121-129.
  • Contraception 1986; vol 36 no 3, pp 335-345.
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