Galectins constitute a family of evolutionarily conserved animal lectins, which are defined by their affinity for poly-N-acetyllactosamine-enriched glycoconjugates and sequence similarities in the carbohydrate recognition domain. During the past decade, attempts to dissect the functional role for galectins in vivo have been unsuccessful in comparison to the overwhelming information reached at the biochemical and molecular levels. The present review deals with the latest advances in galectin research and is aimed at validating the functional significance of these carbohydrate-binding proteins. Novel implications of galectins in cell adhesion, cell growth regulation, immunomodulation, apoptosis, inflammation, embryogenesis, metastasis and pre-mRNA splicing will be particularly discussed in a trip from the gene to the clinical therapy. Elucidation of the molecular mechanisms involved in galectin functions will certainly open new avenues not only in biomedical research, but also at the level of disease diagnosis and clinical intervention, attempting to delineate new therapeutic strategies in autoimmune diseases, inflammatory processes, allergic reactions and tumor spreading.