Expert Reviews in Molecular Medicine

Review Article

Galectins: structure, function and therapeutic potential

Ri-Yao Yanga1, Gabriel A. Rabinovicha2 and Fu-Tong Liua1 c1

a1 Department of Dermatology, University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, Sacramento, CA, USA.

a2 Laboratorio de Inmunopatología, Instituto de Biología y Medicina Experimental (IBYME), Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET), C1428ADN-Buenos Aires, Argentina.


Galectins are a family of animal lectins that bind β-galactosides. Outside the cell, galectins bind to cell-surface and extracellular matrix glycans and thereby affect a variety of cellular processes. However, galectins are also detectable in the cytosol and nucleus, and may influence cellular functions such as intracellular signalling pathways through protein–protein interactions with other cytoplasmic and nuclear proteins. Current research indicates that galectins play important roles in diverse physiological and pathological processes, including immune and inflammatory responses, tumour development and progression, neural degeneration, atherosclerosis, diabetes, and wound repair. Some of these have been discovered or confirmed by using genetically engineered mice deficient in a particular galectin. Thus, galectins may be a therapeutic target or employed as therapeutic agents for inflammatory diseases, cancers and several other diseases.


c1 Corresponding author: Fu-Tong Liu, Department of Dermatology, University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, 3301 C Street, Suite 1400, Sacramento, CA 95816, USA. Tel: +1 916 734 6377; Fax: +1 916 442 5702; E-mail: