BackgroundRodents are incapable of emesis and consequently the emetic potential of glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor (GLP-1R) agonists in studies designed to assess a potential blood glucose lowering action of the compound was missed. Therefore, we investigated if the ferret, a carnivore with demonstrated translation capability in emesis research, would identify the emetic potential of the GLP-1R agonist, exendin-4, and any associated effects on gastric motor function, appetite and cardiovascular homeostasis.MethodsThe biological activity of the GLP-1R ligands was investigated in vivo using a glucose tolerance test in pentobarbitone-anesthetised ferrets and in vitro using organ bath studies. Radiotelemetry was used to investigate the effect of exendin-4 on gastric myoelectric activity (GMA) and cardiovascular function in conscious ferrets; behaviour was also simultaneously assessed. Western blot was used to characterize GLP-1R distribution in the gastrointestinal and brain tissues.ResultsIn anesthetised ferrets, exendin-4 (30 nmol/kg, s.c.) reduced experimentally elevated blood glucose levels by 36.3%, whereas the GLP-1R antagonist, exendin (9¿39) (300 nmol/kg, s.c.) antagonised the effect and increased AUC0¿120 by 31.0% when injected alone (P < 0.05). In animals with radiotelemetry devices, exendin-4 (100 nmol/kg, s.c.) induced emesis in 1/9 ferrets, but inhibited food intake and decreased heart rate variability (HRV) in all animals (P < 0.05). In the animal not exhibiting emesis, there was no effect on GMA, mean arterial blood pressure, heart rate, or core body temperature. In the ferret exhibiting emesis, there was a shift in the GMA towards bradygastria with a decrease in power, and a concomitant decrease in HRV. Western blot revealed GLP-1R throughout the gastrointestinal tract but exendin-4 (up to 300 nM) and exendin (9¿39), failed to contract or relax isolated ferret gut tissues. GLP-1R were found in all major brain regions and the levels were comparable those in the vagus nerve.ConclusionsPeripherally administered exendin-4 reduced blood glucose and inhibited feeding with a low emetic potential similar to that in humans (11% vs 12.8%). A disrupted GMA only occurred in the animal exhibiting emesis raising the possibility that disruption of the GMA may influence the probability of emesis occurring in response to treatment with GLP-1R agonists.