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Glycoconj J. 2001 Aug;18(8):589-613.

Plant lectins: occurrence, biochemistry, functions and applications.

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Institut für Pharmazie und Lebensmittelchemie, Julius-Maximilians-Universität, Am Hubland, Würzburg, Germany.


Growing insights into the many roles of glycoconjugates in biorecognition as ligands for lectins indicates a need to compare plant and animal lectins. Furthermore, the popularity of plant lectins as laboratory tools for glycan detection and characterization is an incentive to start this review with a brief introduction to landmarks in the history of lectinology. Based on carbohydrate recognition by lectins, initially described for concanavalin A in 1936, the chemical nature of the ABH-blood group system was unraveled, which was a key factor in introducing the term lectin in 1954. How these versatile probes are produced in plants and how they are swiftly and efficiently purified are outlined, and insights into the diversity of plant lectin structures are also given. The current status of understanding their functions calls for dividing them into external activities, such as harmful effects on aggressors, and internal roles, for example in the transport and assembly of appropriate ligands, or in the targeting of enzymatic activities. As stated above, attention is given to intriguing parallels in structural/functional aspects of plant and animal lectins as well as to explaining caveats and concerns regarding their application in crop protection or in tumor therapy by immunomodulation. Integrating the research from these two lectin superfamilies, the concepts are discussed on the role of information-bearing glycan epitopes and functional consequences of lectin binding as translation of the sugar code (functional glycomics).

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