Induction of immunological tolerance by apoptotic cells requires caspase-dependent oxidation of high-mobility group box-1 protein

Immunity. 2008 Jul 18;29(1):21-32. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2008.05.013.


The mammalian immune system discriminates between modes of cell death; necrosis often results in inflammation and adaptive immunity, whereas apoptosis tends to be anti-inflammatory and promote immune tolerance. We have examined apoptosis for the features responsible for tolerance; specifically, we looked at the roles of caspases and mitochondria. Our results show that caspase activation targeted the mitochondria to produce reactive oxygen species (ROS), which were critical to tolerance induction by apoptotic cells. ROS oxidized the potential danger signal high-mobility group box-1 protein (HMGB1) released from dying cells and thereby neutralized its stimulatory activity. Apoptotic cells failed to induce tolerance and instead stimulated immune responses by scavenging or by mutating a mitochondrial caspase target protein when ROS activity was prohibited. Similarly, blocking sites of oxidation in HMGB1 prevented tolerance induction by apoptotic cells. These results suggest that caspase-orchestrated mitochondrial events determine the impact of apoptotic cells on the immune response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / immunology*
  • Caspases / immunology*
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology
  • HMGB1 Protein / immunology*
  • HMGB1 Protein / metabolism
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance / immunology*
  • Immunoblotting
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mitochondria / immunology
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / immunology
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • HMGB1 Protein
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Caspases