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Keywords:

  • cardiovascular risk;
  • DPP-4 inhibitors;
  • exenatide;
  • GLP-1 receptor agonists;
  • glucagon-like peptide 1;
  • incretin-based therapies;
  • liraglutide;
  • sitagliptin;
  • type 2 diabetes;
  • vildagliptin

Development of cardiovascular disease is one of the major complications of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). The chronic hyperglycaemic state is often accompanied by dyslipidaemia, hypertension, low-grade systemic inflammation and oxidative stress which collectively result in a high risk of micro- and macrovascular complications. Current glucose-lowering agents do not sufficiently address fore-mentioned macrovascular-risk factors. Recently, new therapeutic agents were introduced, based on the incretin hormone glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), that is, the GLP-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1RA) and dipeptidyl-peptidase 4 (DPP-4) inhibitors. Beside its effect on pancreatic insulin secretion, GLP-1 exerts several extra-pancreatic effects such as slowing down gastric emptying, promoting satiety and reducing food intake and weight loss. Also, GLP-1 and GLP-1RA were shown to improve cardiovascular-risk profiles, by reducing body fat content, blood pressure, circulating lipids and inflammatory markers in patients with T2DM. This review summarizes the presently known evidence with regard to extra-pancreatic effects of the incretin-based agents, focusing on the actions that improve the cardiovascular-risk profile. We present available data from clinical trials of at least 24 week duration, but also findings from small-sized clinical ‘proof of principle’ studies. We conclude that GLP-1 RA and to a lesser extent DPP-4 inhibitors are promising agents with regard to their effects on body weight, blood pressure and lipids, which collectively ameliorate the cardiovascular-risk profile and as such may have added value in the treatment of T2DM. However, large-sized long-term outcome studies are warranted to show the true added value of these agents in the treatment of patients with T2DM.