High-mobility group box-1 (HMGB1) is involved in a broad range of inflammatory responses and the progression of various types of malignancy. However, the roles of HMGB1 in the progression of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) are unclear. The aim of this study was to investigate the significance of intracellular and extracellular HMGB1 in ESCC.
HMGB1 levels were measured in the tissue and plasma of patients with ESCC, or in ESCC cell lines and their conditioned medium. The effects of downregulation of intracellular HMGB1 or upregulation of extracellular HMGB1 on proliferation, cell migration, and invasion were evaluated using proliferation, transwell, and wound healing assays.
Downregulation of HMGB1 expression inhibited cell proliferation, migration, and invasion. On the other hand, upregulation of extracellular HMGB1 level by addition of recombinant HMGB1 promoted the migratory and invasive abilities of ESCC cells through increases of phosphorylation of the signal-regulated kinase 1/2 and NF-κBp65 proteins. These effects of extracellular HMGB1 were attenuated by treatment with recombinant soluble thrombomodulin, which adsorbs HMGB1. The expression of HMGB1 was significantly higher in tumor tissue (p = 0.008), and the concentration of HMGB1 in the plasma was significantly higher in patients with ESCC than in healthy volunteers (p = 0.04). Cancer-specific survival was worse in patients with high concentration of plasma HMGB1 (p = 0.01).
Increase of HMGB1 levels in tumor cells or plasma plays a crucial role in the malignant potential of ESCC. Intracellular and extracellular HMGB1 may be a therapeutic target in ESCC.