Galectins are a 15 member family of carbohydrate-binding proteins that have been implicated in cancer, immunity, inflammation and development. While galectins are expressed in the central nervous system, little is known about their function in the adult brain. Previously we have shown that galectin-1 (gal-1) is expressed in the adult hippocampus, and, in particular, in putative neural stem cells in the subgranular zone. To evaluate how gal-1 might contribute to hippocampal memory function here we studied galectin-1 null mutant (gal-1-/-) mice. Compared to their wildtype littermate controls, gal-1-/- mice exhibited impaired spatial learning in the water maze and contextual fear learning. Interestingly, tone fear conditioning was normal in gal-1-/- mice suggesting that loss of gal-1 might especially impact hippocampal learning and memory. Furthermore, gal-1-/- mice exhibited normal motor function, emotion and sensory processing in a battery of other behavioral tests, suggesting that non-mnemonic performance deficits are unlikely to account for the spatial and contextual learning deficits. Together, these data reveal a role for galectin-carbohydrate signalling in hippocampal memory function.
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