High mobility group box 1 (HMGB1) protein plays multiple roles in transcription, replication, and cellular differentiation. HMGB1 is also secreted by activated monocytes and macrophages and passively released by necrotic or damaged cells, stimulating inflammation. HMGB1 is a novel antigen of antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies (ANCA) observed in the sera of patients with ulcerative colitis and autoimmune hepatitis, suggesting that HMGB1 is secreted from neutrophils to the extracellular milieu. However, the actual distribution of HMGB1 in the cytoplasm of neutrophils and the mechanisms responsible for it are obscure. Here we show that HMGB1 in neutrophils is post-translationally mono-methylated at Lys42. The methylation alters the conformation of HMGB1 and weakens its DNA binding activity, causing it to become largely distributed in the cytoplasm by passive diffusion out of the nucleus. Thus, post-translational methylation of HMGB1 causes its cytoplasmic localization in neutrophils. This novel pathway explains the distribution of nuclear HMGB1 to the cytoplasm and is important for understanding how neutrophils release HMGB1 to the extracellular milieu.
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