Tissue damage occurs often in the life of mammals and is usually repaired. Dying cells are swiftly phagocytosed, but before disappearing, they alert surrounding cells to activate homeostatic programs. They release signals that recruit inflammatory cells to the site of injury, promote cell migration and cell division to replace dead cells, and activate the immune system in anticipation of microbial invasion. Many of these events involve high-mobility group box 1 protein (HMGB1), a nuclear protein that is released passively when necrotic cells lose the integrity of their membranes. HMGB1 behaves as a trigger of inflammation, attracting inflammatory cells, and of tissue repair, recruiting stem cells and promoting their proliferation. Moreover, HMGB1 activates dendritic cells (DCs) and promotes their functional maturation and their response to lymph node chemokines. Activated leukocytes actively secrete HMGB1 in the microenvironment. Thus, HMGB1 acts in an autocrine/paracrine fashion and sustains long-term repair and defense programs. DCs secrete HMGB1 several hours after contact with the first maturation stimulus; HMGB1 secretion is critical for their ability to reach the lymph nodes, to sustain the proliferation of antigen-specific T cells, to prevent their activation-dependent apoptosis, and to promote their polarization towards a T-helper 1 phenotype. These immune responses will also be directed against self-antigens that DCs process at the time of injury and can lead to autoimmunity.