In the postgenomic era, the study of the glycome-the whole repertoire of saccharides in cells and tissues-has enabled the association of unique glycan structures with specific physiological and pathological processes. The responsibility for deciphering this biological information belongs to endogenous glycan-binding proteins or lectins. Galectin-1, a prototypic member of a family of structurally related proteins, has demonstrated selective antiinflammatory and immunoregulatory effects either by controlling immune cell trafficking, "fine-tuning" dendritic cell physiology and regulating T-cell fate. These regulatory functions mediated by an endogenous glycan-binding protein may contribute to fulfill the needs for immune cell homeostasis, including preservation of fetomaternal tolerance and prevention of collateral damage as a result of microbial invasion or autoimmune pathology. We will discuss here the conceptual framework which led to the study of galectin-glycan lattices as a novel paradigm of immune cell communication in physiological and pathological processes and will highlight selected methods and experimental strategies which have contributed to the study of the immunoregulatory activities of this multifaceted glycan-binding protein both in in vitro and in vivo biological settings.
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