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J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2003 Mar;62(3):228-36.

The pleiotropic effects of erythropoietin in the central nervous system.

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Unità di Terapia Subintensiva Metabolica e Dialitica, Dipartimento di Medicina Interna,Università di Messina, Messina, Italy.


Erythropoietin (Epo) is a hydrophobic sialoglycoproteic hormone produced by the kidney and responsible for the proliferation, maturation, and differentiation of the precursors of the erythroid cell line. Human recombinant erythropoietin (rHuEpo) is used to treat different types of anemia, not only in uremic patients but also in newborns with anemia of prematurity, in patients with cancer-related anemia or myeloproliferative disease, thalassemias, bone marrow transplants, or those with chronic infectious diseases. The pleiotropic functions of Epo are well known. It has been shown that this hormone can modulate the inflammatory and immune response, has direct hemodynamic and vasoactive effects, could be considered a proangiogenic factor because of its interaction with vascular endothelial growth factor, and its ability to stimulate mitosis and motility of endothelial cells. The multifunctional role of Epo has further been confirmed by the discovery in the central nervous system of a specific Epo/Epo receptor (EpoR) system. Both Epo and EpoR are expressed by astrocytes and neurons and Epo is present in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Therefore, novel functions of Epo, tissue-specific regulation, and the mechanisms of action have been investigated. In this review we have tried to summarize the current data on the role of Epo on brain function. We discuss the different sites of cerebral expression and mechanisms of regulation of Epo and its receptor and its role in the development and maturation of the brain. Second, we discuss the neurotrophic and neuroprotective function of Epo in different conditions of neuronal damage, such as hypoxia, cerebral ischemia, and subarachnoid hemorrhage, and the consequent possibility that rHuEpo therapy could soon be used in clinical practice to limit neuronal damage induced by these diseases.

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