A number of antiviral lectins, small proteins that bind carbohydrates found on viral envelopes, are currently in pre-clinical trials as potential drugs for prevention of transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other enveloped viruses, such as the Ebola virus and the coronavirus responsible for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Lectins of algal origin whose antiviral properties make them candidate agents for prevention of viral transmission through topical applications include cyanovirin-N, Microcystis viridis lectin, scytovirin, and griffithsin. Although all these proteins exhibit significant antiviral activity, their structures are unrelated and their mode of binding of carbohydrates differs significantly. This review summarizes the current state of knowledge of the structures of algal lectins, their mode of binding of carbohydrates, and their potential medical applications.
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