Background: Vitamin K is essential for the posttranslational modification of various Gla proteins. Although it is widespread in several organs, including the testis, the function of vitamin K in these organs is not well characterized. In this study, we investigated the function of vitamin K in the testis and analyzed its role in steroidogenesis.
Methods: Eight-week-old male Wistar rats were fed a diet supplemented with menaquinone-4 (MK-4, 75 mg/kg diet), one of the predominant K₂ vitamins present in the testis, for 5 weeks. In vivo testosterone levels of the rats' plasma and testes were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, and in vitro testosterone levels of testis-derived tumor cells (I-10 cells) maintained in Ham's F-10 medium with 10% fetal bovine serum were measured following treatment with MK-4 (0 to 100 μM) at several time points. Testosterone and cellular protein levels were analyzed with respect to their effects on steroidogenesis.
Results: Testosterone levels in the plasma and testes of MK-4-fed rats were significantly increased compared to those of control rats, with no obvious differences in plasma luteinizing hormone levels. Secreted testosterone levels from I-10 cells were elevated by MK-4, but not by vitamin K₁, in a dose-dependent manner independent of cAMP treatment. Western blot analysis revealed that expression of CYP11A, the rate-limiting enzyme in steroidogenesis, and phosphorylation levels of protein kinase A (PKA) and the cAMP response element-binding protein were all stimulated by the presence of MK-4. Enhancement of testosterone production was inhibited by H89, a specific inhibitor of PKA, but not by warfarin, an inhibitor of γ-glutamylcarboxylation.
Conclusions: MK-4 stimulates testosterone production in rats and testis-derived tumor cells via activation of PKA. MK-4 may be involved in steroidogenesis in the testis, and its supplementation could reverse the downregulation of testosterone production in elders.