Vitamin K

Vitamin K (K from “Koagulations-Vitamin” in German and Scandinavian languages[1]) denotes a group of lipophilic, hydrophobic vitamins that are needed for the posttranslational modification of certain proteins, mostly required for blood coagulation, but also a number of other proteins that chelate calcium ion, and are involved in bone and other tissue metabolism. They are 2-methyl1,4-naphthoquinone derivatives.

Vitamin K1 is also known as phylloquinone or phytomenadione (also called phytonadione). Vitamin K2 (menaquinone, menatetrenone) is normally produced by bacteria in the large intestine,[2] and dietary deficiency is extremely rare unless the intestines are heavily damaged, are unable to absorb the molecule, or are subject to decreased production by normal flora, as seen in broad spectrum antibiotic use[3].

There are three synthetic forms of vitamin K, vitamins K3, K4, and K5, which are used in many areas including the pet food industry (vitamin K3) and to inhibit fungal growth (vitamin K5) [4]

Vitamin K1 (phylloquinone). Both forms of the vitamin contain a functional naphthoquinone ring and an aliphatic side chain. Phylloquinone has a phytyl side chain.

Vitamin K2 (menaquinone). In menaquinone the side chain is composed of a varying number of isoprenoid residues.

Chemical structure

All members of the vitamin K group of vitamins share a methylated naphthoquinone ring structure, and vary in the aliphatic side chain attached at the 3-position (see figure 1). Phylloquinone (also known as vitamin K1) invariably contains in its side chain four isoprenoid residues, one of which is unsaturated.

Menaquinones have side chains composed of a variable number of unsaturated isoprenoid residues; generally they are designated as MK-n, where n specifies the number of isoprenoids.

It is generally accepted that the naphthoquinone is the functional group, so that the mechanism of action is similar for all K-vitamins. Substantial differences may be expected, however, with respect to intestinal absorption, transport, tissue distribution, and bio-availability. These differences are caused by the different lipophilicity of the various side chains, and by the different food matrices in which they occur.


Vitamin K is involved in the carboxylation of certain glutamate residues in proteins to form gamma-carboxyglutamate residues (abbreviated Gla-residues). The modified residues are often (but not always) situated within specific protein domains called Gla domains. Gla-residues are usually involved in binding calcium. The Gla-residues are essential for the biological activity of all known Gla-proteins.[5]

At this time[update] 14 human proteins with Gla domains have been discovered, and they play key roles in the regulation of three physiological processes:

Like other liposoluble vitamins (A, D, E), vitamin K is stored in the fat tissue of the human body.

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