BACKGROUND: High Mobility Group Box 1 (HMGB1) was first identified as a nonhistone chromatin-binding protein that functions as a pro-inflammatory cytokine and a Damage-Associated Molecular Pattern molecule when released from necrotic cells or activated leukocytes. HMGB1 consists of two structurally similar HMG boxes that comprise the pro-inflammatory (B-box) and the anti-inflammatory (A-box) domains. Paradoxically, the A-box also contains the epitope for the well-characterized anti-HMGB1 monoclonal antibody "2G7", which also potently inhibits HMGB1-mediated inflammation in a wide variety of in vivo models. The molecular mechanisms through which the A-box domain inhibits the inflammatory activity of HMGB1 and 2G7 exerts anti-inflammatory activity after binding the A-box domain have been a mystery. Recently, we demonstrated that: 1) the TLR4/MD-2 receptor is required for HMGB1-mediated cytokine production and 2) the HMGB1-TLR4/MD-2 interaction is controlled by the redox state of HMGB1 isoforms. METHODS: We investigated the interactions of HMGB1 isoforms (redox state) or HMGB1 fragments (A- and B-box) with TLR4/MD-2 complex using Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR) studies. RESULTS: Our results demonstrate that: 1) intact HMGB1 binds to TLR4 via the A-box domain with high affinity but an appreciable dissociation rate; 2) intact HMGB1 binds to MD-2 via the B-box domain with low affinity but a very slow dissociation rate; and 3) HMGB1 A-box domain alone binds to TLR4 more stably than the intact protein and thereby antagonizes HMGB1 by blocking HMGB1 from interacting with the TLR4/MD-2 complex. CONCLUSIONS: These findings not only suggest a model whereby HMGB1 interacts with TLR4/MD-2 in a two-stage process but also explain how the A-box domain and 2G7 inhibit HMGB1.