Sweetening the hallmarks of cancer: Galectins as multifunctional mediators of tumor progression

J Exp Med. 2020 Feb 3;217(2):e20182041. doi: 10.1084/jem.20182041.


Hanahan and Weinberg have proposed 10 organizing principles that enable growth and metastatic dissemination of cancer cells. These distinctive and complementary capabilities, defined as the "hallmarks of cancer," include the ability of tumor cells and their microenvironment to sustain proliferative signaling, evade growth suppressors, resist cell death, promote replicative immortality, induce angiogenesis, support invasion and metastasis, reprogram energy metabolism, induce genomic instability and inflammation, and trigger evasion of immune responses. These common features are hierarchically regulated through different mechanisms, including those involving glycosylation-dependent programs that influence the biological and clinical impact of each hallmark. Galectins, an evolutionarily conserved family of glycan-binding proteins, have broad influence in tumor progression by rewiring intracellular and extracellular circuits either in cancer or stromal cells, including immune cells, endothelial cells, and fibroblasts. In this review, we dissect the role of galectins in shaping cellular circuitries governing each hallmark of tumors, illustrating relevant examples and highlighting novel opportunities for treating human cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Carcinogenesis / metabolism*
  • Cell Death
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Galectins / metabolism*
  • Genomic Instability
  • Glycosylation
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / metabolism
  • Telomerase / metabolism
  • Tumor Escape


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Galectins
  • Telomerase