Galectins and their ligands: negative regulators of anti-tumor immunity

Glycoconj J. 2012 Dec;29(8-9):619-25. doi: 10.1007/s10719-012-9379-0. Epub 2012 Apr 29.


Cytotoxic CD8(+) T cells are major players of anti-tumor immune responses, as their functional activity can limit tumor growth and progression. Data show that cytotoxic T cells efficiently control the proliferation of tumor cells through major histocompatibility complex class I-mediated mechanisms; nevertheless, the presence of tumor-infiltrating CD8(+) T cells in lesional tissue does not always correlate with better prognosis and increased survival of cancer patients. Similarly, adoptive transfer of tumor-specific cytotoxic T cells has only shown marginal improvement in life spans of patients with metastatic disease. In this report, we discuss experimental evidence showing that expression of tumor-derived galectins, galectin (Gal)-1, Gal-3 and Gal-9, and concomitant presence of their ligands on the surface of anti-tumor immunocytes directly compromise anti-tumor CD8(+) T cell immune responses and, perhaps, undermine the promise of adoptive CD8(+) T cell immunotherapy. Furthermore, we describe novel strategies designed to counteract Gal-1-, Gal-3- and Gal-9-mediated effects and highlight their targeting potential for creating more effective anti-tumor immune responses. We believe that Gal and their ligands represent an efficacious targeted molecular paradigm that warrants clinical evaluation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic
  • Galectins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology*
  • Tumor Escape


  • Galectins
  • Ligands