Galectins (Gals) constitute a family of mammalian lectins with affinity for β-galactosides, characterized by the presence of conserved CRDs (carbohydrate-recognition domains). We have found previously that Gal-8, from the tandem-repeat group with two linked CRDs, exerts two separate actions on CD4+ T-cells: antigen-independent proliferation and, at lower concentration, antigen-specific co-stimulation. Whereas proliferation can be ascribed to the pro-inflammatory role of Gal-8, the co-stimulatory activity of borderline T-cell-specific responses allows the proposal of Gal-8 as an adjuvant in vaccination. To study the relevance of glycan–lectin interaction to these T-cell activities, we generated a double-mutated protein (Gal-8mut) by replacing canonical arginine residues on each CRD, so as to abolish sugar-binding capacity. As expected, Gal-8mut was unable to bind to lactosyl-Sepharose, confirming that lactose recognition was precluded; however, preservation of lectin activity was still evident since Gal-8mut displayed haemoagglutinatory effects and binding capacity to the T-cell surface. To search for glycan affinity, a glycan microarray analysis was conducted which revealed that Gal-8mut lost most low- and intermediate-, but retained high-, affinity interactions, mainly to polylactosamines and blood group antigens. These findings were supported further by molecular modelling. Regarding biological activity, Gal-8mut was unable to induce T-cell proliferation, but efficiently co-stimulated antigen-specific responses, both in vitro and in vivo. Therefore Gal-8mut represents a useful tool to dissect the specificities of lectin–glycan interactions underlying distinctive Gal-8 activities on T-cell biology. Moreover, given its distinguishing properties, Gal-8mut could be used to enhance borderline immune responses without the non-specific pro-inflammatory activity or other potential adverse effects.

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