As an active compound extracted from the Chinese herbTripterygium wilfordii, triptolide (TP) was demonstrated to have potent antiinflammatory and immunosuppressive properties in previous studies. Recently, it has been shown that TP prevented the loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra of rats in a model of Parkinson's disease, but little is known about the precise neuroprotective mechanism of TP. This study was designed to elucidate whether the neuroprotective effect of TP is partially based on its direct inhibition of inflammatory molecules by investigating the effects of TP on the expression of cyclooxygenase (COX)-2 and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) related to the nuclear factor (NF)-κB pathway in lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-stimulated PC12 cells. The activation of related upstream molecules such as NF-κB, P38, extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)1/2, and beta-alanyl-alpha-ketoglutarate transaminase (AKT), in PC12 cells were investigated by real time polymerase chain reaction (PCR), western blotting and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Our results showed that TP directly inhibited the expression of both mRNA and protein of COX-2 (p< 0.01), decreased PGE2 production (p< 0.01) in a dose-dependent manner, down-regulated NF-κB activity (p< 0.01), and significantly inhibited the phosphorylation of p38, ERK1/2 (p42/p44) and AKT in PC12 cells after LPS challenge. This suggests that the neuroprotective effects of TP may be partially mediated by direct inhibition of the expression of COX-2, activation of NF-κB, and phosphorylation of p38, ERK1/2 (p42/p44) and AKT proteins of neuronal cells. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.