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PLoS One. 2013 May 3;8(5):e63073. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0063073. Print 2013.

Identification and characterization of the direct interaction between methotrexate (MTX) and high-mobility group box 1 (HMGB1) protein.

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Department of Applied Biological Science, Faculty of Science and Technology, Tokyo University of Science, Yamazaki, Noda, Chiba, Japan.



Methotrexate (MTX) is an agent used in chemotherapy of tumors and autoimmune disease including rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In addition, MTX has some anti-inflammatory activity. Although dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) is a well-known target for the anti-tumor effect of MTX, the mode of action for the anti-inflammatory activity of MTX is not fully understood. METHODOLOGY/RESULT: Here, we performed a screening of MTX-binding proteins using T7 phage display with a synthetic biotinylated MTX derivative. We then characterized the interactions using surface plasmon resonance (SPR) analysis and electrophoretic mobility shift assay (EMSA). Using a T7 phage display screen, we identified T7 phages that displayed part of high-mobility group box 1 (HMGB1) protein (K86-V175). Binding affinities as well as likely binding sites were characterized using genetically engineered truncated versions of HMGB1 protein (Al G1-K87, Bj: F88-K181), indicating that MTX binds to HMGB1 via two independent sites with a dissociation constants (KD) of 0.50±0.03 µM for Al and 0.24 ± 0.01 µM for Bj. Although MTX did not inhibit the binding of HMGB1 to DNA via these domains, HMGB1/RAGE association was impeded in the presence of MTX. These data suggested that binding of MTX to part of the RAGE-binding region (K149-V175) in HMGB1 might be significant for the anti-inflammatory effect of MTX. Indeed, in murine macrophage-like cells (RAW 264.7), TNF-α release and mitogenic activity elicited by specific RAGE stimulation with a truncated monomeric HMGB1 were inhibited in the presence of MTX.


These data demonstrate that HMGB1 is a direct binding protein of MTX. Moreover, binding of MTX to RAGE-binding region in HMGB1 inhibited the HMGB1/RAGE interaction at the molecular and cellular levels. These data might explain the molecular basis underlying the mechanism of action for the anti-inflammatory effect of MTX.

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