Translating the 'Sugar Code' into Immune and Vascular Signaling Programs

Trends Biochem Sci. 2017 Apr;42(4):255-273. doi: 10.1016/j.tibs.2016.11.003. Epub 2016 Dec 13.


The vast range and complexity of glycan structures and their dynamic variations in health and disease have presented formidable challenges toward understanding the biological significance of these molecules. Despite these limitations, compelling evidence highlights a major role for galectins, a family of soluble glycan-binding proteins, as endogenous decoders that translate glycan-containing information into a broad spectrum of cellular responses by modulating receptor clustering, reorganization, endocytosis, and signaling. Here, we underscore pioneer findings and recent advances in understanding the biology of galectin-glycan interactions in myeloid, lymphoid, and endothelial compartments, highlighting important pathways by which these multivalent complexes control immune and vascular programs. Implementation of novel glycoanalytical approaches, as well as the use of genetically engineered cell and organism models, have allowed glycans and galectins to be explored across a range of cellular processes.

Keywords: endothelial cells; galectins; glycans; lymphoid cells; myeloid cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Endothelium / metabolism*
  • Galectins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immune System / metabolism*
  • Polysaccharides / chemistry
  • Polysaccharides / immunology*
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Galectins
  • Polysaccharides