Life after death: targeting high mobility group box 1 in emergent cancer therapies

Am J Cancer Res. 2013;3(1):1-20. Epub 2013 Jan 18.


High mobility group box 1 (HMGB1), an evolutionarily highly conserved and abundant nuclear protein also has roles within the cytoplasm and as an extracellular damage-associated molecular pattern (DAMP) molecule. Extracellular HMGB1 is the prototypic endogenous 'danger signal' that triggers inflammation and immunity. Recent findings suggest that posttranslational modifications dictate the cellular localization and secretion of HMGB1. HMGB1 is actively secreted from immune cells and stressed cancer cells, or passively released from necrotic cells. During cancer development or administration of therapeutic agents including chemotherapy, radiation, epigenetic drugs, oncolytic viruses, or immunotherapy, the released HMGB1 may either promote or limit cancer growth, depending on the state of progression and vascularization of the tumor. Extracellular HMGB1 enhances autophagy and promotes persistence of surviving cancer cells following initial activation. When oxidized, it chronically suppresses the immune system to promote cancer growth and progression, thereby enhancing resistance to cancer therapeutics. In its reduced form, it can facilitate and elicit innate and adaptive anti-tumor immunity, recruiting and activating immune cells, in conjunction with cytotoxic agents, particularly in early transplantable tumor models. We hypothesize that HMGB1 also functions as an epigenetic modifier, mainly through regulation of NF-kB-dependent signaling pathways, to modulate the behavior of surviving cancer cells as well as the immune cells found within the tumor microenvironment. This has significant implications for developing novel cancer therapeutics.

Keywords: CD8+ T cells; Cancer; HMGB1; NF-kB signaling; activation; dendritic cells; epigenetic pathways; innate immunity.