Exendin-4 from Heloderma suspectum venom: From discovery to its latest application as type II diabetes combatant

Michelle Khai Khun Yap, Nurhamimah Misuan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


Type II diabetes mellitus (T2DM) is a chronic non-communicable disease due to abnormal insulin actions causing uncontrolled hyperglycaemia. The treatment for T2DM, for instance, metformin and incretin mimetic, mainly focuses on the restoration of insulin sensitivity and secretion. Exendin-4 is a short incretin-mimetic peptide consisting of 39 amino acids. It is discovered in the venom of Heloderma suspectum as a full agonist for the glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) receptor and produces insulinotropic effects. It is more resistant to enzymatic degradation by dipeptidyl-peptidase-4 and has a longer half-life than the endogenous GLP-1; thus, it is further developed as an incretin hormone analogue used to treat T2DM. The helical region of the peptide first interacts with the extracellular N-terminal domain (NTD) of GLP-1 receptor while the C-terminal extension containing the tryptophan cage further enhances its binding affinity. After binding to the NTD of the receptor, it may cause the receptor to switch from its auto-inhibited state of the receptor to its auto-activated state. Exendin-4 enhances the physiological functions of β-cells and the up-regulation of GLP-1 receptors, thus reducing the plasma glucose levels. Moreover, exendin-4 has also been found to ameliorate neuropathy, nephropathy and ventricular remodelling. The therapeutic effects of exendin-4 have also been extrapolated into several clinical trials. Although exendin-4 has a reasonable subcutaneous bioavailability, its half-life is rather short. Therefore, several modifications have been undertaken to improve its pharmacokinetics and insulinotropic potency. This review focuses on the pharmacology of exendin-4 and the structure-function relationships of exendin-4 with GLP-1 receptor. The review also highlights some challenges and future directions in the improvement of exendin-4 as an anti-diabetic drug.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)513-527
Number of pages15
JournalBasic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2019


  • exendin-4
  • insulinotropic
  • peptide-receptor interaction
  • pharmacokinetics
  • type II diabetes mellitus

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