Galectins are a family of animal lectins that bind β-galactosides. Outside the cell, galectins bind to cell-surface and extracellular matrix glycans and thereby affect a variety of cellular processes. However, galectins are also detectable in the cytosol and nucleus, and may influence cellular functions such as intracellular signalling pathways through protein–protein interactions with other cytoplasmic and nuclear proteins. Current research indicates that galectins play important roles in diverse physiological and pathological processes, including immune and inflammatory responses, tumour development and progression, neural degeneration, atherosclerosis, diabetes, and wound repair. Some of these have been discovered or confirmed by using genetically engineered mice deficient in a particular galectin. Thus, galectins may be a therapeutic target or employed as therapeutic agents for inflammatory diseases, cancers and several other diseases.