Chronic Intermittent Hypoxia Impairs Insulin Sensitivity but Improves Whole-Body Glucose Tolerance by Activating Skeletal Muscle AMPK

Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome is a highly prevalent disease resulting in transient respiratory arrest and chronic intermittent hypoxia (cIH). cIH is associated with insulin resistance and impaired metabolic homeostasis in rodents and humans, but the exact underlying mechanisms remain unclear. In the current study, we investigated the effects of 2 weeks of cIH (1-min cycle, fraction of inspired oxygen 21–5%, 8 h/day) on whole-body insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance in lean mice. Although food intake and body weight were reduced compared with normoxia, cIH induced systemic insulin resistance in a hypoxia-inducible factor 1–independent manner and impaired insulin signaling in liver, white adipose tissue, and skeletal muscle. Unexpectedly, cIH improved whole-body glucose tolerance independently of changes in body weight and glucose-induced insulin response. This effect was associated with elevated phosphorylation of Thr172-AMPK and Ser237-TBC1 domain family member 1 (TBC1D1) in skeletal muscle, suggesting a tissue-specific AMPK-dependent increase in TBC1D1-driven glucose uptake. Remarkably, although food intake, body weight, and systemic insulin sensitivity were still affected, the improvement in glucose tolerance by cIH was abolished in muscle-specific AMPKα1α2–deficient mice. We conclude that cIH impairs insulin sensitivity while improving whole-body glucose tolerance by promoting specific activation of the skeletal muscle AMPK pathway.