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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Apr 15;100(8):4802-6. Epub 2003 Mar 27.

Recombinant human erythropoietin protects the myocardium from ischemia-reperfusion injury and promotes beneficial remodeling.

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Mario Negri Institute of Pharmacological Research, 20157 Milan, Italy.


Erythropoietin (EPO), originally identified for its critical hormonal role in promoting erythrocyte survival and differentiation, is a member of the large and diverse cytokine superfamily. Recent studies have identified multiple paracrineautocrine functions of EPO that coordinate local responses to injury by maintaining vascular autoregulation and attenuating both primary (apoptotic) and secondary (inflammatory) causes of cell death. Experimental evidence also supports a role for EPO in repair and regeneration after brain and spinal cord injury, including the recruitment of stem cells into the region of damage. Tissue expression of the EPO receptor is widespread, especially during development, and includes the heart. However, it is currently unknown as to whether EPO plays a physiological function in adult myocardial tissue. We have assessed the potential protective role of EPO in vitro with adult rat cardiomyocytes, and in vivo in a rat model of myocardial infarction with reperfusion. The results show that EPO markedly prevents the apoptosis of cultured adult rat myocardiocytes subjected to 28 h of hypoxia (approximately 3% normal oxygen). Additional studies employing a rat model of coronary ischemia-reperfusion showed that the administration of recombinant human EPO (5,000 units/kg of body weight; i.p. daily for 7 days) reduces cardiomyocyte loss by approximately 50%, an extent sufficient to normalize hemodynamic function within 1 week after reperfusion. These observations not only suggest a potential therapeutic role for recombinant human EPO in the treatment of myocardial ischemia and infarction by preventing apoptosis and attenuating postinfarct deterioration in hemodynamic function, but also predict that EPO is likely a tissue-protective cytokine in other organs as well.

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