Naphthoquinone vitamins (vitamins K) are widely recognized for their role in the gamma-carboxylation of specific glutamyl residues in coagulation, anti-coagulation and extra-hepatic proteins. Recently, however, there have been reports that these compounds can exert actions other than those normally associated with protein gamma-carboxylation. These observations suggest that naphthoquinones may have effects on the production of inflammatory mediators including cytokines. Fibroblasts are now recognized as a rich source of cytokines and we have examined the effect of various naphthoquinones on the production of interleukin 6 (IL-6) by lipopolysaccharide-stimulated human gingival fibroblasts. Compounds examined in this study include: phylloquinone (K1), menaquinone-4 (K2), menadione (K3), 2,3-dimethoxy-1,4-naphthoquinone (DMK) and a synthetic product of vitamin K catabolism, 2-methyl, 3-(2'methyl)-hexanoic acid-1,4-naphthoquinone (KCAT). All of these compounds are capable of inhibiting IL-6 production with a rank order of potency: KCAT > K3 > DMK > K2 > K1. The most potent compound, KCAT, inhibited IL-6 production with an IC50 of 3 x 10(-7)M. The mechanism of action of these naphthoquinones on fibroblast IL-6 production is unknown. Given that K3 and KCAT are inactive in the gamma-carboxylation reaction, we suggest that this activity is not essential for the inhibition of IL-6 production and that activity may be related to the redox capacity of these naphthoquinones.