GLP-1 Analogs and DPP-4 Inhibitors in Type 2 Diabetes Therapy: Review of Head-to-Head Clinical Trials

Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2020 Apr 3:11:178. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2020.00178. eCollection 2020.


The incretin hormones glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP) are released from enteroendocrine cells in response to the presence of nutrients in the small intestines. These homones facilitate glucose regulation by stimulating insulin secretion in a glucose dependent manner while suppressing glucagon secretion. In patients with type 2 diabetes (T2DM), an impaired insulin response to GLP-1 and GIP contributes to hyperglycemia. Dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitors block the breakdown of GLP-1 and GIP to increase levels of the active hormones. In clinical trials, DPP-4 inhibitors have a modest impact on glycemic control. They are generally well-tolerated, weight neutral and do not increase the risk of hypoglycemia. GLP-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RA) are peptide derivatives of either exendin-4 or human GLP-1 designed to resist the activity of DPP-4 and therefore, have a prolonged half-life. In clinical trials, they have demonstrated superior efficacy to many oral antihyperglycemic drugs, improved weight loss and a low risk of hypoglycemia. However, GI adverse events, particularly nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are seen. Both DPP-4 inhibitors and GLP-1 RAs have demonstrated safety in robust cardiovascular outcome trials, while several GLP-1 RAs have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of major adverse cardiovascular events in persons with T2DM with pre-existing cardiovascular disease (CVD). Several clinical trials have directly compared the efficacy and safety of DPP-4 inhibitors and GLP-1 RAs. These studies have generally demonstrated that the GLP-1 RA provided superior glycemic control and weight loss relative to the DPP-4 inhibitor. Both treatments were associated with a low and comparable incidence of hypoglycemia, but treatment with GLP-1 RAs were invariably associated with a higher incidence of GI adverse events. A few studies have evaluated switching patients from DPP-4 inhibitors to a GLP-1RA and, as expected, improved glycemic control and weight loss are seen following the switch. According to current clinical guidelines, GLP-1RA and DPP-4 inhibitors are both indicated for the glycemic management of patients with T2DM across the spectrum of disease. GLP-1RA may be preferred over DPP- 4 inhibitors for many patients because of the greater reductions in hemoglobin A1c and weight loss observed in the clinical trials. Among patients with preexisting CVD, GLP-1 receptor agonists with a proven cardiovascular benefit are indicated as add-on to metformin therapy.

Keywords: DPP-4 inhibitors; GLP-1 receptor agonists; cardiovascular outcomes trials; clinical trials; incretin biology; incretin hormones; type 2 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic / methods
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / statistics & numerical data
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology
  • Dipeptidyl-Peptidase IV Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions / epidemiology
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide 1 / analogs & derivatives*
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide 1 / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / therapeutic use*


  • Dipeptidyl-Peptidase IV Inhibitors
  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide 1