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Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 1991;86 Suppl 2:211-8.

Plant lectins, chemical and biological aspects.

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Departamento de Bioquímica e Biologia Molecular, Universidade Federal do Ceará, Fortaleza, Brasil.


Lectins, carbohydrate-binding proteins of non-immune origin, that agglutinate cells or precipitate polysaccharides and glycoconjugates, are well distributed in nature, mainly in the Plant Kingdom. The great majority of the plant lectins are present in seed cotyledons where they are found in the cytoplasm or in the protein bodies, although they have also been found in roots, stems and leaves. Due to their peculiar properties, the lectins are used as a tool both for analytical and preparative purposes in biochemistry, cellular biology, immunology and related areas. In agriculture and medicine the use of lectins greatly improved in the last few years. The lectins, with few exceptions, are glycoproteins, need divalent cations to display full activity and are, in general, oligomers with variable molecular weight. Although the studies on lectins have completed a century, their role in nature is yet unknown. Several hypotheses on their physiological functions have been suggested. Thus, lectins could play important roles in defense against pathogens, plant-microorganism symbiosis, cell organization, embryo morphogenesis, phagocytosis, cell wall elongation, pollen recognition and as reserve proteins. A brief review on the general properties and roles of the lectins is given.

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