Classification of plant lectins in families of structurally and evolutionary related proteins

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2001;491:27-54. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4615-1267-7_3.


The majority of plant lectins can be classified in seven families of structurally and evolutionary related proteins. Within a given lectin family most but not necessarily all members are built up of protomers with a similar primary structure and overall 3-D fold. The overall structure of the native lectins is not only determined by the structure of the protomers but depends also on the degree of oligomerization and in some cases on the post-translational processing of the lectin precursors. In general, lectin families are fairly homogeneous for what concerns the overall specificity of the individual lectins, which illustrates that the 3-D structure of the binding site has been conserved during evolution. In the case of the jacalin-related lectins the occurrence of a mannose- and galactose-binding subfamily can be explained by the fact that a post-translational cleavage of the protomers (of the galactose-binding subfamily) yields a slightly altered binding site. Unlike the other families, the legume lectins display a wide range of specificites, which is clearly reflected in the occurrence of sugar-binding sites with a different 3-D structure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carbohydrate Metabolism
  • Carbohydrates / chemistry
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Structure
  • Plant Lectins / chemistry*
  • Plant Lectins / genetics
  • Protein Conformation


  • Carbohydrates
  • Plant Lectins