Molecular Medicine

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 138–146 | Cite as

The Role of HMGB1 in the Pathogenesis of Inflammatory and Autoimmune Diseases

  • Melinda Magna
  • David S. Pisetsky
Review Article


High-mobility group box 1 (HMGB1) protein is a highly abundant protein that can promote the pathogenesis of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases once it is in an extracellular location. This translocation can occur with immune cell activation as well as cell death, with the conditions for release associated with the expression of different isoforms. These isoforms result from post-translational modifications, with the redox states of three cysteines at positions 23, 45 and 106 critical for activity. Depending on the redox states of these residues, HMGB1 can induce cytokine production via toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) or promote chemotaxis by binding the chemokine CXCL12 for stimulation via CXCR4. Fully oxidized HMGB1 is inactive. During the course of inflammatory disease, HMGB1 can therefore play a dynamic role depending on its redox state. As a mechanism to generate alarmins, cell death is an important source of HMGB1, although each major cell death form (necrosis, apoptosis, pyroptosis and NETosis) can lead to different isoforms of HMGB1 and variable levels of association of HMGB1 with nucleosomes. The association of HMGB1 with nucleosomes may contribute to the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus by producing nuclear material whose immunological properties are enhanced by the presence of an alarmin. Since HMGB1 levels in blood or tissue are elevated in many inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, this molecule can serve as a unique biomarker as well as represent a target of novel therapies to block its various activities.



This work was supported by a VA Merit Review Grant, a grant from the Alliance for Lupus Research (ALR) and National Institutes of Health grant 5U19-AI056363.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Duke University Medical CenterDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Medical Research ServiceDurham Veterans Administration Medical CenterDurhamUSA

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