Abstract HMGB1 is an abundant chromatin component, so far considered ubiquitous. HMGB1 also has an extracellular signalling role: when passively released by necrotic cells, it triggers inflammation; moreover, it can be actively secreted by myeloid cells, neurons and neuronal cancer cells. We show here that HMGB1 protein is undetectable in most cells in adult mouse brain, and is present in a subset of brain cells during development, with a very complex temporal, spatial and subcellular expression pattern. HMGB1 is expressed in the cortical plate of E14.5 embryos, predominantly in the nucleus, although roughly 1% of cells show a cytoplasmic localization as well. In E16 embryos, HMGB1 is nuclearly expressed in scattered cells apparently moving from the ventricular zone to the cortical plate. HMGB1 expression is strongly down-regulated at later developmental stages; in adult mice significant expression is maintained only in areas of continuing neurogenesis. Finally, HMGB1 subcellular localization changes during retinoic acid induced differentiation of P19 neuroblastoma cells.