In the last two decades we have witnessed sizable progress in defining the role of gastrointestinal signals in the control of glucose and energy homeostasis. Specifically, the molecular basis of the huge metabolic benefits in bariatric surgery is emerging while novel incretin-based medicines based on endogenous hormones such as glucagon-like peptide 1 and pancreas-derived amylin are improving diabetes management. These and related developments have fostered the discovery of novel insights into endocrine control of systemic metabolism, and in particular a deeper understanding of the importance of communication across vital organs, and specifically the gut-brain-pancreas-liver network. Paradoxically, the pancreatic peptide glucagon has reemerged in this period among a plethora of newly identified metabolic macromolecules, and new data complement and challenge its historical position as a gut hormone involved in metabolic control. The synthesis of glucagon analogs that are biophysically stable and soluble in aqueous solutions has promoted biological study that has enriched our understanding of glucagon biology and ironically recruited glucagon agonism as a central element to lower body weight in the treatment of metabolic disease. This review summarizes the extensive historical record and the more recent provocative direction that integrates the prominent role of glucagon in glucose elevation with its under-acknowledged effects on lipids, body weight, and vascular health that have implications for the pathophysiology of metabolic diseases, and the emergence of precision medicines to treat metabolic diseases.
Copyright © 2017 the American Physiological Society.