Insulin secretion from pancreatic β cells is stimulated by glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), a blood glucose-lowering hormone that is released from enteroendocrine L cells of the distal intestine after the ingestion of a meal. GLP-1 mimetics (e.g., Byetta) and GLP-1 analogs (e.g., Victoza) activate the β cell GLP-1 receptor (GLP-1R), and these compounds stimulate insulin secretion while also lowering levels of blood glucose in patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). An additional option for the treatment of T2DM involves the administration of dipeptidyl peptidase-IV (DPP-IV) inhibitors (e.g., Januvia, Galvus). These compounds slow metabolic degradation of intestinally released GLP-1, thereby raising post-prandial levels of circulating GLP-1 substantially. Investigational compounds that stimulate GLP-1 secretion also exist, and in this regard a noteworthy advance is the demonstration that small molecule GPR119 agonists (e.g., AR231453) stimulate L cell GLP-1 secretion while also directly stimulating β cell insulin release. In this review, we summarize what is currently known concerning the signal transduction properties of the β cell GLP-1R as they relate to insulin secretion. Emphasized are the cyclic AMP, protein kinase A, and Epac2-mediated actions of GLP-1 to regulate ATP-sensitive K⁺ channels, voltage-dependent K⁺ channels, TRPM2 cation channels, intracellular Ca⁺ release channels, and Ca⁺-dependent exocytosis. We also discuss new evidence that provides a conceptual framework with which to understand why GLP-1R agonists are less likely to induce hypoglycemia when they are administered for the treatment of T2DM.
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