Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) is the leading cause of chronic kidney disease (CKD). Diabetic nephropathy (DN) is determined by specific pathological structural and functional alterations of the kidneys in patients with diabetes, and its clinical manifestations are albuminuria and decline of glomerular filtration rate (GFR). Apart from renin–angiotensin–aldosterone system (RAAS) inhibitors, no other drugs are currently available as therapy for diabetic kidney disease (DKD). Glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor (GLP-1R) agonists are a new class of anti-hyperglycemic drugs which have been demonstrated to prevent the onset of macroalbuminuria and reduce the decline of GFR in diabetic patients. These drugs may exert their beneficial actions on the kidneys through blood glucose- and blood pressure (BP)-lowering effects, reduction of insulin levels and weight loss. Clinical benefits of GLP-1R agonists were acknowledged due to data from large randomized phase III clinical trials conducted to assess their cardiovascular(CV) safety. These drugs improved renal biomarkers in placebo-controlled clinical studies, with effects supposed to be independent of the actions on glycemic control. In this review, we will focus on the actions of GLP-1R agonists on glucose metabolism and kidney physiology, and evaluate direct and indirect mechanisms through which these drugs may confer renal protection.
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