Galectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins that are involved in many physiological functions, such as inflammation, immune responses, cell migration, autophagy and signalling. They are also linked to diseases such as fibrosis, cancer and heart disease. How such a small family of only 15 members can have such widespread effects remains a conundrum. In this Cell Science at a Glance article, we summarise recent literature on the many cellular activities that have been ascribed to galectins. As shown on the accompanying poster, these include carbohydrate-independent interactions with cytosolic or nuclear targets and carbohydrate-dependent interactions with extracellular glycoconjugates. We discuss how these intra- and extracellular activities might be linked and point out the importance of unravelling molecular mechanisms of galectin function to gain a true understanding of their contributions to the physiology of the cell. We close with a short outlook on the organismal functions of galectins and a perspective on the major challenges in the field.
Keywords: Endocytosis; Galectin; Glycosylation.
© 2018. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.