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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Drugs developed to treat diabetes, liraglutide and lixisenatide, cross the blood brain barrier and enhance neurogenesis

Kerry Hunter1 and Christian Hölscher12*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Biomedical Sciences, Ulster University, Coleraine, UK

2 University of Ulster, School of Biomedical Sciences, Cromore Road, Coleraine BT52 1SA, Northern Ireland

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BMC Neuroscience 2012, 13:33  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-13-33

Published: 23 March 2012



Type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease (AD), most likely linked to an impairment of insulin signalling in the brain. Therefore, drugs that enhance insulin signalling may have therapeutic potential for AD. Liraglutide (Victoza) and exenatide (Byetta) are novel long-lasting analogues of the GLP-1 incretin hormone and are currently available to treat diabetes. They facilitate insulin signalling via the GLP-1 receptor (GLP-1R). Numerous in vitro and in vivo studies have shown that GLP-1 analogues have a range of neuroprotective properties. GLP-1Rs are expressed in the hippocampal area of the brain an important site of adult neurogenesis and maintenance of cognition and memory formation. Therefore, if GLP-1 analogues can cross the blood brain barrier, diffuse through the brain to reach the receptors and most importantly activate them, their neuroprotective effects may be realized.


In the present study we profiled the GLP-1 receptor agonists liraglutide (Victoza) and lixisenatide (Lyxumia). We measured the kinetics of crossing the blood brain barrier (BBB), activation of the GLP-1R by measuring cAMP levels, and physiological effects in the brain on neuronal stem cell proliferation and neurogenesis. Both drugs were able to cross the BBB. Lixisenatide crossed the BBB at all doses tested (2.5, 25, or 250 nmol/kg bw ip.) when measured 30 min post-injection and at 2.5-25 nmol/kg bw ip. 3 h post-injection. Lixisenatide also enhanced neurogenesis in the brain. Liraglutide crossed the BBB at 25 and 250 nmol/kg ip. but no increase was detectable at 2.5 nmol/kg ip. 30 min post-injection, and at 250 nmol/kg ip. at 3 h post-injection. Liraglutide and lixisenatide enhanced cAMP levels in the brain, with lixisenatide being more effective.


Our results suggest that these novel incretin analogues cross the BBB and show physiological activity and neurogenesis in the brain, which may be of use as a treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

Alzheimer disease; Parkinson's disease; Diabetes; Neuroprotection; Stem cells