The sweet and bitter sides of galectins in melanoma progression


Menashe Bar-Eli, e-mail:


Melanoma is the leading cause of skin cancer-related deaths, which is due in large part to its aggressive behavior, resistance to therapy, and ability to metastasize to multiple organs such as the lymph nodes, lung, and brain. Melanoma progresses in a stepwise manner from the benign nevus, to radial spreading through the dermis, to a vertical invasive phase, and finally to metastasis. The carbohydrate-binding family of galectins has a strong influence on each phase of melanoma progression through their effects on immune surveillance, angiogenesis, cell migration, tumor cell adhesion, and the cellular response to chemotherapy. Galectins share significant homology in their carbohydrate recognition domain (CRD), which mediates binding to an array of N-glycosylated proteins located on the surface of tumor cells, endothelial cells, T-cells, and to similarly glycosylated extracellular matrix proteins. Galectins are also present within tumor cells where they perform anti-apoptotic functions and enhance intracellular signaling that results in deregulated expression of genes involved in tumor progression. The most extensively studied galectins, galectin-1 and galectin-3, have been shown to have profound effects on melanoma growth and metastasis by influencing many of these biological processes.