BACKGROUND: Respiratory failure and thromboembolism are frequent in SARS-CoV-2-infected patients. Vitamin K activates both hepatic coagulation factors and extrahepatic endothelial anticoagulant protein S, required for thrombosis prevention. In times of vitamin K insufficiency, hepatic procoagulant factors are preferentially activated over extrahepatic proteins. Vitamin K also activates matrix Gla protein (MGP), which protects against pulmonary and vascular elastic fiber damage. We hypothesized that vitamin K may be implicated in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), linking pulmonary and thromboembolic disease.
METHODS: 135 hospitalized COVID-19 patients were compared with 184 historical controls. Poor outcome was defined as invasive ventilation and/or death. Inactive vitamin K-dependent MGP (dp-ucMGP) and prothrombin (PIVKA-II) were measured, inversely related to extrahepatic and hepatic vitamin K status, respectively. Desmosine was measured to quantify the rate of elastic fiber degradation. Arterial calcification severity was assessed by computed tomography.
RESULTS: Dp-ucMGP was elevated in COVID-19 patients compared to controls (p<0.001), with even higher dp-ucMGP in patients with poor outcomes (p<0.001). PIVKA-II was normal in 82.1% of patients. Dp-ucMGP was correlated with desmosine (p<0.001), and coronary artery (p=0.002) and thoracic aortic (p<0.001) calcification scores.
CONCLUSIONS: Dp-ucMGP was severely increased in COVID-19 patients, indicating extrahepatic vitamin K insufficiency, which was related to poor outcome while hepatic procoagulant factor II remained unaffected. These data suggest a mechanism of pneumonia-induced extrahepatic vitamin K depletion leading to accelerated elastic fiber damage and thrombosis in severe COVID-19 due to impaired activation of MGP and endothelial protein S, respectively. A clinical trial could assess whether vitamin K administration improves COVID-19 outcomes.