OBJECTIVE: Chronic exposure of pancreatic beta-cells to saturated free fatty acids (FFAs) causes endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and apoptosis and may contribute to beta-cell loss in type 2 diabetes. Here, we evaluated the molecular mechanisms involved in the protection of beta-cells from lipotoxic ER stress by glucagon-like peptide (GLP)-1 agonists utilized in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS: INS-1E or fluorescence-activated cell sorter-purified primary rat beta-cells were exposed to oleate or palmitate with or without the GLP-1 agonist exendin-4 or forskolin. Cyclopiazonic acid was used as a synthetic ER stressor, while the activating transcription factor 4-C/EBP homologous protein branch was selectively activated with salubrinal. The ER stress signaling pathways modulated by GLP-1 agonists were studied by real-time PCR and Western blot. Knockdown by RNA interference was used to identify mediators of the antiapoptotic GLP-1 effects in the ER stress response and downstream mitochondrial cell death mechanisms. RESULTS: Exendin-4 and forskolin protected beta-cells against FFAs via the induction of the ER chaperone BiP and the antiapoptotic protein JunB that mediate beta-cell survival under lipotoxic conditions. On the other hand, exendin-4 and forskolin protected against synthetic ER stressors by inactivating caspase 12 and upregulating Bcl-2 and X-chromosome-linked inhibitor of apoptosis protein that inhibit mitochondrial apoptosis. CONCLUSIONS: These observations suggest that GLP-1 agonists increase in a context-dependent way the beta-cell defense mechanisms against different pathways involved in ER stress-induced apoptosis. The identification of the pathways modulated by GLP-1 agonists allows for targeted approaches to alleviate beta-cell ER stress in diabetes.