High mobility group box 1 (HMGB1) is now recognized as a late mediator of sepsis. We tested hypothesis that ascorbic acid (AscA) induces heme oxygenase (HO)-1 which inhibits HMGB1 release in lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-stimulated cells and increases survival of septic mice. AscA increased HO-1 protein expression in a concentration- and time-dependent manner via Nrf2 activation in RAW 264.7 cells. HO-1 induction by AscA was significantly reduced by Nrf2 siRNA-transfected cells. Mutation of cysteine to serine of keap-1 proteins (C151S, C273S, and C288S) lost the ability of HO-1 induction by AscA, due to failure of translocation of Nrf-2 to nucleus. The PI3 kinase inhibitor, LY294002, inhibited HO-1 induction by AscA. Oxyhemoglobin (HbO2), LY294002, and ZnPPIX (HO-1 enzyme inhibitor) reversed effect of AscA on HMGB1 release. Most importantly, administration of AscA (200 mg/kg, i.p.) significantly increased survival in LPS-induced endotoxemic mice. In cecal ligation and puncture (CLP)-induced septic mice, AscA reduced hepatic injury and serum HMGB1 and plasminogen activator inhibitor (PAI)-1 in a ZnPPIX-sensitive manner. In addition, AscA failed to increase survival in Nrf2 knockout mice by LPS. Thus, we concluded that high dose of AscA may be useful in the treatment of sepsis, at least, by activation of Nrf2/HO-1 signals.