Targeting lipid GPCRs to treat type 2 diabetes mellitus - progress and challenges

Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2021 Mar;17(3):162-175. doi: 10.1038/s41574-020-00459-w. Epub 2021 Jan 25.


Therapeutic approaches to the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus that are designed to increase insulin secretion either directly target β-cells or indirectly target gastrointestinal enteroendocrine cells (EECs), which release hormones that modulate insulin secretion (for example, incretins). Given that β-cells and EECs both express a large array of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that modulate insulin secretion, considerable research and development efforts have been undertaken to design therapeutic drugs targeting these GPCRs. Among them are GPCRs specific for free fatty acid ligands (lipid GPCRs), including free fatty acid receptor 1 (FFA1, otherwise known as GPR40), FFA2 (GPR43), FFA3 (GPR41) and FFA4 (GPR120), as well as the lipid metabolite binding glucose-dependent insulinotropic receptor (GPR119). These lipid GPCRs have demonstrated important roles in the control of islet and gut hormone secretion. Advances in lipid GPCR pharmacology have led to the identification of a number of synthetic agonists that exert beneficial effects on glucose homeostasis in preclinical studies. Yet, translation of these promising results to the clinic has so far been disappointing. In this Review, we present the physiological roles, pharmacology and clinical studies of these lipid receptors and discuss the challenges associated with their clinical development for the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism*
  • Drug Delivery Systems / methods*
  • Drug Delivery Systems / trends
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / drug effects
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / metabolism
  • Membrane Lipids / metabolism*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism*


  • FFAR4 protein, human
  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Membrane Lipids
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled

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