Galectin-3 is a member (if a large family of beta-galactoside-binding animal lectins. It has been shown that the expression of galectin-3 is upregulated in proliferating cells, suggesting a possible role for this lectin in regulation of cell growth. Previously, we have shown that T cells infected with human T-cell leukemia virus type I express high levels of galectin-3, in contrast to uninfected cells, which do not express detectable amounts of this protein. In this study, we examined growth properties of human leukemia T cells transfected with galectin-3 cDNA, and thus constitutively overexpressing this lectin. Transfectants expressing galectin-3 displayed higher growth rates than control transfectants, which do not express this lectin. Furthermore, galectin-3 expression in these cells confers resistance to apoptosis induced by anti-Fas antibody and staurosporine. Galectin-3 was found to have significant sequence similarity with Bcl-2, a well-characterized suppressor of apoptosis. In particular, the lectin contains the NWGR motif that is highly conserved among members of the Bcl-2 family and shown to be critical for the apoptosis-suppressing activity. We further demonstrated that galectin-3 interacts with Bc1-2 in a lactose-inhibitable manner. We conclude that galectin-3 is a regulator of cell growth and apoptosis and it may function through a cell death inhibition pathway that involves Bcl-2.