Keeping circadian time with hormones

Diabetes Obes Metab. 2015 Sep:17 Suppl 1:76-83. doi: 10.1111/dom.12516.


Daily variations of metabolism, physiology and behaviour are controlled by a network of coupled circadian clocks, comprising a master clock in the suprachiasmatic nuclei of the hypothalamus and a multitude of secondary clocks in the brain and peripheral organs. Light cues synchronize the master clock that conveys temporal cues to other body clocks via neuronal and hormonal signals. Feeding at unusual times can reset the phase of most peripheral clocks. While the neuroendocrine aspect of circadian regulation has been underappreciated, this review aims at showing that the role of hormonal rhythms as internal time-givers is the rule rather than the exception. Adrenal glucocorticoids, pineal melatonin and adipocyte-derived leptin participate in internal synchronization (coupling) within the multi-oscillatory network. Furthermore, pancreatic insulin is involved in food synchronization of peripheral clocks, while stomach ghrelin provides temporal signals modulating behavioural anticipation of mealtime. Circadian desynchronization induced by shift work or chronic jet lag has harmful effects on metabolic regulation, thus favouring diabetes and obesity. Circadian deregulation of hormonal rhythms may participate in internal desynchronization and associated increase in metabolic risks. Conversely, adequate timing of endocrine therapies can promote phase-adjustment of the master clock (e.g. via melatonin agonists) and peripheral clocks (e.g. via glucocorticoid agonists).

Keywords: circadian rhythm; desynchronization; diabetes; feeding time; ghrelin; glucocorticoid; insulin; leptin; melatonin; metabolic disturbances; obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronobiology Disorders / complications
  • Circadian Clocks / physiology*
  • Ghrelin / metabolism
  • Glucocorticoids / metabolism
  • Hormones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Leptin / metabolism
  • Light
  • Melatonin / metabolism
  • Metabolic Diseases / etiology


  • Ghrelin
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Hormones
  • Insulin
  • Leptin
  • Melatonin