Regulation of HMGB1 release by autophagy

Autophagy. 2009 Feb;5(2):247-9. doi: 10.4161/auto.5.2.7552. Epub 2009 Feb 5.


The characteristics of tumor cell killing by an anticancer agent can determine the long-term effectiveness of the treatment. For example, if dying tumor cells release the immune modulator HMGB1 after treatment with anticancer drugs, they can activate a tumor-specific immune response that boosts the effectiveness of the initial treatment. Recent work from our group examined the mechanism of action of a targeted toxin called DT-EGF that selectively kills Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor-expressing tumor cells. We found that DT-EGF kills glioblastoma cells by a caspase-independent mechanism that involves high levels of autophagy, which inhibits cell death by blocking apoptosis. In contrast, DT-EGF kills epithelial tumor cells by caspase-dependent apoptosis and in these cells autophagy is not induced. These differences allowed us to discover that the different death mechanisms were associated with differences in the release of HMGB1 and that autophagy induction is required and sufficient to cause release of HMGB1 from the dying cells. These data identify a new function for autophagy during cell death and open up the possibility of manipulating autophagy during cancer treatment as a way to influence the immunogenicity of dying tumor cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Autophagy* / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • HMGB1 Protein / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • HMGB1 Protein