Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) is one of the hormones responsible for the incretin effect, a term that refers to the observation that orally administered glucose results in a larger increase in plasma insulin levels and insulin-dependent decrease in blood glucose concentration when compared to the same amount of glucose given intravenously. GLP-1 is secreted mainly by gut endocrine L-cells and is released under the control of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids. Upon secretion, GLP-1 targets different cell types and exerts a wide variety of actions such as potentiation of glucose-stimulated insulin secretion, reduction of appetite, delay of gastric emptying and increase in β-cell mass. These beneficial effects have resulted in the application of GLP-1-based therapies in patients with type 2 diabetes, but also exploitation of its effects in type 1 diabetes is being envisaged. In this review, we focus on the different, short- and long-term action mechanisms of GLP-1 with specific emphasis on its role as a modulator of β-cell function and survival.