High-mobility group box-1 protein and keratin-18, circulating serum proteins informative of acetaminophen-induced necrosis and apoptosis in vivo

Toxicol Sci. 2009 Dec;112(2):521-31. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfp235. Epub 2009 Sep 25.


Drug-induced hepatotoxicity represents a major clinical problem and an impediment to new medicine development. Serum biomarkers hold the potential to provide information about pathways leading to cellular responses within inaccessible tissues, which can inform the medicinal chemist and the clinician with respect to safe drug design and use. Hepatocyte apoptosis, necrosis, and innate immune activation have been defined as features of the toxicological response associated with the hepatotoxin acetaminophen (APAP). Within this investigation, we have unambiguously identified and characterized by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry differing circulating molecular forms of high-mobility group box-1 protein (HMGB1) and keratin-18 (K18), which are linked to the mechanisms and pathological changes induced by APAP in the mouse. Hypoacetylated HMGB1 (necrosis indicator), caspase-cleaved K18 (apoptosis indicator), and full-length K18 (necrosis indicator) present in serum showed strong correlations with the histological time course of cell death and was more sensitive than alanine aminotransferase activity. We have further identified a hyperacetylated form of HMGB1 (inflammatory indicator) in serum, which indicated that hepatotoxicity was associated with an inflammatory response. The inhibition of APAP-induced apoptosis and K18 cleavage by the caspase inhibitor N-benzyloxycarbonyl-Val-Ala-Asp(OMe) fluoromethyl ketone are associated with increased hepatic damage, by a shift to necrotic cell death only. These findings illustrate the initial verification of K18 and HMGB1 molecular forms as serum-based sensitive tools that provide insights into the cellular dynamics involved in APAP hepatotoxicity within an inaccessible tissue. Based on these findings, potential exists for the qualification and measurement of these proteins to further assist in vitro, in vivo, and clinical bridging in toxicological research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / toxicity*
  • Acetylation
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • HMGB1 Protein / blood*
  • HMGB1 Protein / chemistry
  • Keratin-18 / blood*
  • Keratin-18 / chemistry
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Necrosis
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry


  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • HMGB1 Protein
  • Keratin-18
  • Acetaminophen