Loss of synchrony between geophysical time and insulin action predisposes to metabolic diseases. Yet the brain and peripheral pathways linking proper insulin effect to diurnal changes in light-dark and feeding-fasting inputs are poorly understood. Here, we show that the insulin sensitivity of several metabolically relevant tissues fluctuates during the 24 h period. For example, in mice, the insulin sensitivity of skeletal muscle, liver, and adipose tissue is lowest during the light period. Mechanistically, by performing loss- and gain-of-light-action and food-restriction experiments, we demonstrate that SIRT1 in steroidogenic factor 1 (SF1) neurons of the ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus (VMH) convey photic inputs to entrain the biochemical and metabolic action of insulin in skeletal muscle. These findings uncover a critical light-SF1-neuron-skeletal-muscle axis that acts to finely tune diurnal changes in insulin sensitivity and reveal a light regulatory mechanism of skeletal muscle function. Aras et al. provide in vivo evidence that tissue responsiveness to insulin varies in a diurnal fashion. In skeletal muscle, the authors show that photic inputs entrain diurnal changes in clock genes expression and insulin sensitivity via SIRT1 in neurons within the hypothalamic ventromedial nucleus.
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