ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: Plant lectins such as Galanthus nivalis agglutinin (GNA) and Hippeastrum hybrid agglutinin (HHA) are natural proteins able to link mannose residues, and therefore inhibit HIV-target cell interactions. Plant lectins are candidate for microbicide development. OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the activity against HIV of the mannose-specific plant lectins HHA and GNA at the cellular membrane level of epithelial cells and monocyte-derived dendritic cells (MDDC), two potential target cells of HIV at the genital mucosal level. METHODS: The inhibitory effects of HHA and GNA were evaluated on HIV adsorption to genital epithelial HEC-1A cell line, on HIV transcytosis throughout a monolayer of polarized epithelial HEC-1A cells, on HIV adsorption to MDDC and on transfer of HIV from MDDC to autologous T lymphocytes. RESULTS: HHA faintly inhibited attachment to HEC-1A cells of the R5-tropic HIV-1Ba-L strain, in a dose-dependent manner, whereas GNA moderately inhibited HIV adsorption in the same context, but only at high drug doses. Only HHA, but not GNA, inhibited HIV-1JR-CSF transcytosis in a dose-dependent manner. By confocal microscopy, HHA, but not GNA, was adsorbed at the epithelial cell surface, suggesting that HHA interacts specifically with receptors mediating HIV-1 transcytosis. Both plant lectins partially inhibited HIV attachment to MDDC. HHA inhibited more efficiently the transfer of HIV from MDDC to T cell, than GNA. Both HHA and GNA lacked toxicity below 200 mug/ml irrespective the cellular system used and do not disturb the monolayer integrity of epithelial cells. CONCLUSION: These observations demonstrate higher inhibitory activities of the lectin plant HHA by comparison to GNA, on HIV adsorption to HEC-1A cell line, HIV transcytosis through HEC-1A cell line monolayer, HIV adsorption to MDDC and HIV transfer from MDDC to T cells, highlighting the potential interest of HHA as effective microbicide against HIV.