Review Article | Published:

Galectins as modulators of tumour progression

Nature Reviews Cancervolume 5pages2941 (2005) | Download Citation



Galectins are a family of animal lectins with diverse biological activities. They function both extracellularly, by interacting with cell-surface and extracellular matrix glycoproteins and glycolipids, and intracellularly, by interacting with cytoplasmic and nuclear proteins to modulate signalling pathways. Current research indicates that galectins have important roles in cancer; they contribute to neoplastic transformation, tumour cell survival, angiogenesis and tumour metastasis. They can modulate the immune and inflammatory responses and might have a key role helping tumours to escape immune surveillance. How do the different members of the Galectin family contribute to these diverse aspects of tumour biology?

Key Points

  • Galectins are a family of animal lectins that have affinity for β-galactosides and that share similar amino-acid sequences.

  • Galectins bind to a wide array of glycoproteins and glycolipids both on the cell surface and in extracellular matrices.

  • By binding to these glycoconjugates, galectins deliver signals intracellularly as well as mediate cell–cell and cell–extracellular matrix adhesion.

  • The most extensively-studied function of galectins is the regulation of apoptosis; some galectins can induce apoptosis when added exogenously to cells, whereas others regulate apoptosis through intracellular mechanisms.

  • Galectin-1 and galectin-3 can interact with oncogenic Ras and mediate cell transformation induced by this oncogene.

  • Galectins can modulate cell adhesion and cell migration, thereby affecting the process of tumour metastasis.

  • Galectin-3 has angiogenic activity.

  • Galectins have pro- and anti-inflammatory functions and modulate the immune response. Furthermore, galectin-1 functions as a soluble mediator employed by tumour cells to evade the immune response.

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We thank members of our laboratories for stimulating discussions and helpful suggestions, in particular D. Hsu, I. Kuwabara, J. Newman, and R.-Y. Yang (in F.-T.L.'s laboratory) and M. A. Toscano, J. M. Ilarregui, N. Rubinstein, and G. A. Bianco (in G.A.R.'s laboratory). We apologize to the authors of many relevant studies not cited because of space limitations. Work in authors' laboratories was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health to F.-T.L. and by grants from Sales Foundation, Antorchas Foundation, Ministry of Health (Becas 'Carrillo-O˜ativia'), Wellcome Trust, and University of Buenos Aires to G.A.R. G.A.R. is a member of CONICET.

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  1. Department of Dermatology, School of Medicine, University of California, Davis, Sacramento, California, USA

    • Fu-Tong Liu
  2. Division of Immunogenetics, Hospital de Cl'nicas, School of Medicine, University of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina

    • Gabriel A. Rabinovich


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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Fu-Tong Liu or Gabriel A. Rabinovich.

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