Hmga1, moonlighting protein function, and cellular real estate: Location, location, location!

Mireia Pujals, Linda Resar, Josep Villanueva

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The gene encoding the High Mobility Group A1 (HMGA1) chromatin remodeling protein is upregulated in diverse cancers where high levels portend adverse clinical outcomes. Until recently, HMGA1 was assumed to be a nuclear protein exerting its role in cancer by transcriptionally modulating gene expression and downstream signaling pathways. However, the discovery of an extracellular HMGA1-RAGE autocrine loop in invasive triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) cell lines implicates HMGA1 as a “moonlighting protein” with different functions depending upon cellular location. Here, we review the role of HMGA1, not only as a chromatin regulator in cancer and stem cells, but also as a potential secreted factor that drives tumor progression. Prior work found that HMGA1 is secreted from TNBC cell lines where it signals through the receptor for advanced glycation end products (RAGE) to foster phenotypes involved in tumor invasion and metastatic progression. Studies in primary TNBC tumors also suggest that HMGA1 secretion associates with distant metastasis in TNBC. Given the therapeutic potential to target extracellular proteins, further work to confirm this role in other contexts is warranted. Indeed, crosstalk between nuclear and secreted HMGA1 could change our understanding of tumor development and reveal novel therapeutic opportunities relevant to diverse human cancers overexpressing HMGA1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1334
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • HMGA1
  • RAGE
  • Secretome
  • Unconventional protein secretion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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