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J Ethnopharmacol. 2012 Aug 1;142(3):669-78. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2012.05.036. Epub 2012 Jun 7.

Studies of biological properties of Uncaria tomentosa extracts on human blood mononuclear cells.

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Department of Biophysics of Environmental Pollution, University of Łódź, Pomorska 141/143, 90-237 Łódź, Poland.



Uncaria tomentosa (Willd.) DC is a lignified climbing plant from South and Central America, which (under the name of "vilcacora" or "cat's claw") has become highly popular in many countries due to its proven immunostimmulatory and anti-inflammatory activities and also with respect to its anticancer and antioxidative effects. There are insufficient data on the mechanism of U. tomentosa action on normal blood mononuclear cells.


The aim of the study was to analyze the impact of ethanol and aqueous extracts from bark and leaves of Uncaria tomentosa on the structure and function of human mononuclear cells and to find out whether the kind of extractant used modulates biological activity of the extracts studied.


Plant material consisted of four different extracts: (1) ethanol extract from leaves, (2) aqueous extract from leaves, (3) ethanol extract from bark and (4) aqueous extract from bark. The effect of these extracts on protein damage as well as on free-radical formation in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells was analyzed. Moreover, changes in viability, size, and granularity as well as apoptotic alterations in human blood mononuclear cells exposed to U. tomentosa extracts were investigated.


The oxidative changes were observed in mononuclear blood cells exposed to both ethanol and aqueous extracts obtained from bark and leaves. Moreover, in the cells studied the extracts from U. tomentosa induced apoptosis and a decrease in viability of mononuclear blood cells, with the exception of aqueous extract from leaves. Additionally, no statistically significant changes in the cell size were observed both for aqueous extracts from leaves and bark. Changes in the blood mononuclear cell granularity were observed at 250 μg/mL for all extracts examined. The strongest changes were observed for the ethanol extract of the bark, which increased cell granularity at 50 μg/mL and changed cell size at 100 μg/mL.


The conducted research showed differences in biological activity between aqueous and ethanol extracts. It was observed that ethanol extracts exhibited stronger negative effects on mononuclear blood cells. The kind of extractant used had a significant influence of the chemical composition of the tested extracts. The ethanol extract from bark containing a high amount of polyphenols and alkaloids revealed the highest pro-apoptotic effect.

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