HMGB1 released by mesothelial cells drives the development of asbestos-induced mesothelioma

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2023 Sep 26;120(39):e2307999120. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2307999120. Epub 2023 Sep 20.


Asbestos is the main cause of malignant mesothelioma. Previous studies have linked asbestos-induced mesothelioma to the release of HMGB1 from the nucleus to the cytoplasm, and from the cytoplasm to the extracellular space. In the cytoplasm, HMGB1 induces autophagy impairing asbestos-induced cell death. Extracellularly, HMGB1 stimulates the secretion of TNFα. Jointly, these two cytokines kick-start a chronic inflammatory process that over time promotes mesothelioma development. Whether the main source of extracellular HMGB1 were the mesothelial cells, the inflammatory cells, or both was unsolved. This information is critical to identify the targets and design preventive/therapeutic strategies to interfere with asbestos-induced mesothelioma. To address this issue, we developed the conditional mesothelial HMGB1-knockout (Hmgb1ΔpMeso) and the conditional myelomonocytic-lineage HMGB1-knockout (Hmgb1ΔMylc) mouse models. We establish here that HMGB1 is mainly produced and released by the mesothelial cells during the early phases of inflammation following asbestos exposure. The release of HMGB1 from mesothelial cells leads to atypical mesothelial hyperplasia, and in some animals, this evolves over the years into mesothelioma. We found that Hmgb1ΔpMeso, whose mesothelial cells cannot produce HMGB1, show a greatly reduced inflammatory response to asbestos, and their mesothelial cells express and secrete significantly reduced levels of TNFα. Moreover, the tissue microenvironment in areas of asbestos deposits displays an increased fraction of M1-polarized macrophages compared to M2 macrophages. Supporting the biological significance of these findings, Hmgb1ΔpMeso mice showed a delayed and reduced incidence of mesothelioma and an increased mesothelioma-specific survival. Altogether, our study provides a biological explanation for HMGB1 as a driver of asbestos-induced mesothelioma.

Keywords: HMGB1; asbestos; macrophages; mesothelioma; microenvironment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asbestos* / toxicity
  • HMGB1 Protein* / genetics
  • Inflammation
  • Mesothelioma* / chemically induced
  • Mesothelioma* / genetics
  • Mesothelioma, Malignant*
  • Mice
  • Tumor Microenvironment
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / genetics


  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • HMGB1 Protein
  • Asbestos