Galectin 3 as a guardian of the tumor microenvironment

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2016 Mar;1863(3):427-437. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamcr.2015.08.008. Epub 2015 Aug 8.


Galectin 3 is a member of a family of β-galactoside binding proteins and has emerged as an important regulator of diverse functions critical in cancer biology including apoptosis, metastasis, immune surveillance, molecular trafficking, mRNA splicing, gene expression, and inflammation. Galectin 3's ability to support cancer cell survival by intra-cellular and extra-cellular mechanisms suggests this molecule is an important component of the tumor microenvironment that potentially could be targeted for therapy. Data is emerging that Galectin 3 is elevated in many cancers including solid tumors and the cancers of the blood. Galectin 3 also appears to be a key molecule produced by tumor microenvironment support cells including mesenchymal stromal cells (MSC) to suppress immune surveillance by killing T cells and interfering with NK cell function and by supporting metastasis. Levels of Galectin 3 increase in the MSC of aging mice and perhaps this contributes to the development of cancer in the elderly. Galectin 3 modulates surface protein expression of a diverse set of glycoproteins including CD44 by regulating endocytosis of these proteins. In addition, Galectin 3 binding to receptor kinases such as CD45 and the T cell receptor is critical in the regulation of their function. In this review I will examine the various mechanisms how Galectin 3 supports chemoresistance and metastasis in solid tumors and in leukemia and lymphoma. I will also discuss possible therapeutic strategies to target this Galectin for cancer therapy. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Tumor Microenvironment Regulation of Cancer Cell Survival, Metastasis, Inflammation, and Immune Surveillance edited by Peter Ruvolo and Gregg L. Semenza.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Galectin 3 (LGALS3); Immune surveillance; Signal transduction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Apoptosis / immunology*
  • Cell Adhesion / immunology
  • Galectin 3 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Galectin 3 / immunology*
  • Galectin 3 / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Surveillance / immunology
  • Models, Immunological
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Tumor Microenvironment / drug effects
  • Tumor Microenvironment / immunology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Galectin 3