HMGB1 protein is a multifunctional cytokine involved in inflammatory reactions and is known to play a key role in tissue repair and fibrosis. However, the function of HMGB1 in fibrotic skin diseases, such as hypertrophic scar formation, remains unclear. In this study, HMGB1 was detected in the nuclei of epidermal cells in normal skin and had accumulated in the cytoplasm in hypertrophic scars. By establishing a keratinocyte-fibroblast co-culture and conditional medium treatment models, we found that a reduced hydration condition increased the expression and secretion of HMGB1 in keratinocytes, subsequently activating dermal fibroblasts. HMGB1 secreted from keratinocytes activated fibroblasts by promoting the nuclear import of MRTF-A, increased the nuclear accumulation of MRTF-A/SRF complexes and consequently enhanced α-smooth muscle actin promoter activation. Moreover, blockade of advanced glycation end products or Toll-like receptor 2/4 inhibited the fibroblast activation induced by HMGB1. Finally, local delivery of HMGB1 resulted in marked hypertrophic scar formation in rabbit hypertrophic scar models, while HMGB1 blockade exerted a clear anti-scarring effect. Our results indicate that high HMGB1 levels induced by a reduced hydration status play an important role in hypertrophic scar formation, strongly suggesting that HMGB1 is a novel target for preventing scarring.
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