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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2002 Sep 19;1572(2-3):187-97.

Animal lectins: a historical introduction and overview.

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Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, National Science Laboratory, Ellen's Glen Road, Edinburgh, Scotland EH17 7QT, UK.


Some proteins we now regard as animal lectins were discovered before plant lectins, though many were not recognised as carbohydrate-binding proteins for many years after first being reported. As recently as 1988, most animal lectins were thought to belong to one of two primary structural families, the C-type and S-type (presently known as galectins) lectins. However, it is now clear that animal lectin activity is found in association with an astonishing diversity of primary structures. At least 12 structural families are known to exist, while many other lectins have structures apparently unique amongst carbohydrate-binding proteins, although some of those "orphans" belong to recognised protein families that are otherwise not associated with sugar recognition. Furthermore, many animal lectins also bind structures other than carbohydrates via protein-protein, protein-lipid or protein-nucleic acid interactions. While animal lectins undoubtedly fulfil a variety of functions, many could be considered in general terms to be recognition molecules within the immune system. More specifically, lectins have been implicated in direct first-line defence against pathogens, cell trafficking, immune regulation and prevention of autoimmunity.

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