So far, a wealth of data originating from in vitro or animal experiments has been collected supporting the concept that the gut hormone, glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) may serve as a model molecule for the design of a new drug for the treatment of diabetes mellitus. This is supported by observations that GLP-1 has potent insulinotropic action in patients with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). It enhances beta-cell sensitivity to glucose stimulated insulin secretion. GLP-1 may also have a role in the treatment of impaired glucose tolerance, where the beta-cell is already insensitive to changes in plasma glucose concentrations. It may, as has previously been shown in animal models of 'prediabetes', delay the progressive decline in glucose tolerance to NIDDM. The glucose-dependent action of this peptide is an important feature in the treatment of NIDDM as it will protect against hypoglycaemic reactions, the most serious acute side-effect of antidiabetic therapy. Glucose utilization may be enhanced which would improve metabolic control in both NIDDM and IDDM. A glucagon lowering effect will further enhance metabolic control. This article reviews current experiences of the effects of GLP-1 in human studies. It points out the outcomes and limitations of previous trials and discusses future directions for the investigation of its potential use as a new agent in diabetes treatment.