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Eur J Pharmacol. 2004 Nov 28;505(1-3):93-101.

Passage of erythropoietic agents across the blood-brain barrier: a comparison of human and murine erythropoietin and the analog darbepoetin alfa.

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  • 1Geriatrics Research, Education, and Clinical Center, Veterans Affairs Medical Center-St. Louis and Saint Louis University School of Medicine, Division of Geriatrics, Department of Internal Medicine, USA.


Studies have suggested that erythropoietin (EPO) may be used to treat stroke in both animals and humans. It is thought to exert its effects directly on the brain and studies with therapeutic doses have shown that it can cross the blood-brain barrier. Here, we compared in a blinded fashion the ability of three erythropoietic agents (murine erythropoietin, human erythropoietin, and darbepoetin alfa, an analog of human erythropoietin in clinical use) to cross the blood-brain barrier of the mouse. High-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) results showed that all three erythropoietic agents were enzymatically resistant in brain and blood. The unidirectional blood-to-brain influx rates (Ki) as measured by multiple-time regression analysis showed that all the erythropoietic agents crossed the blood-brain barrier at about the same rate as albumin, suggesting that they cross the blood-brain barrier by way of the extracellular pathways. No saturable component to influx was found, but indirect evidence suggested a brain-to-blood efflux system. The percent of the intravenously injected dose taken up per gram of brain (%Inj/g) ranged from 0.05 to 0.1 %Inj/g among the three erythropoietic agents and peaked about 3 h after IV injection. For other substances, this range of %Inj/g is known to produce direct effects on brain function. We conclude that erythropoietic agents cross the blood-brain barrier by way of the extracellular pathways in amounts that are likely sufficient to explain their neuroprotective effects.

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