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Glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) regulates glucose homeostasis through the control of insulin release from the pancreas. GLP-1 peptide agonists are efficacious drugs for the treatment of diabetes. To gain insight into the molecular mechanism of action of GLP-1 peptides, here we report the crystal structure of the full-length GLP-1 receptor bound to a truncated peptide agonist. The peptide agonist retains an α-helical conformation as it sits deep within the receptor-binding pocket. The arrangement of the transmembrane helices reveals hallmarks of an active conformation similar to that observed in class A receptors. Guided by this structural information, we design peptide agonists with potent in vivo activity in a mouse model of diabetes.The solved crystal structure of the GLP-1 receptor bound to a truncated agonist enables the design of synthetic agonists that exhibit potent activity in vivo.