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Structural features of galectin-9 and galectin-1 that determine distinct T cell death pathways.

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The galectin family of lectins regulates multiple biologic functions, such as development, inflammation, immunity, and cancer. One common function of several galectins is the ability to trigger T cell death. However, differences among the death pathways triggered by various galectins with regard to glycoprotein receptors, intracellular death pathways, and target cell specificity are not well understood. Specifically, galectin-9 and galectin-1 both kill thymocytes, peripheral T cells, and T cell lines; however, we have found that galectin-9 and galectin-1 require different glycan ligands and glycoprotein receptors to trigger T cell death. The two galectins also utilize different intracellular death pathways, as galectin-9, but not galectin-1, T cell death was blocked by intracellular Bcl-2, whereas galectin-1, but not galectin-9, T cell death was blocked by intracellular galectin-3. Target cell susceptibility also differed between the two galectins, as galectin-9 and galectin-1 killed different subsets of murine thymocytes. To define structural features responsible for distinct activities of the tandem repeat galectin-9 and dimeric galectin-1, we created a series of bivalent constructs with galectin-9 and galectin-1 carbohydrate recognition domains connected by different peptide linkers. We found that the N-terminal carbohydrate recognition domain and linker peptide contributed to the potency of these constructs. However, we found that the C-terminal carbohydrate recognition domain was the primary determinant of receptor recognition, death pathway signaling, and target cell susceptibility. Thus, carbohydrate recognition domain specificity, presentation, and valency make distinct contributions to the specific effects of different galectins in initiating T cell death.

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