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Blood. 1991 Mar 15;77(6):1228-33.

Erythropoietin is both a mitogen and a survival factor.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD.


Erythropoietin (Ep) regulates the proliferation and differentiation of erythroid progenitor cells, but whether it functions solely as a survival factor or also acts as a mitogen is unresolved. Because late erythroid progenitor cells (CFU-E) are largely in cell cycle, we examined this issue by using an Ep-dependent, murine erythroleukemia cell line, HCD-57. In the presence of human Ep and fetal calf serum, HCD-57 cells had a doubling time of approximately 24 hours, and during log-phase growth approximately 36% of the cells were in G1, 45% in S, and 19% in G2/M. With Ep deprivation, there was a gradual loss of viability and an arrest of proliferation with a 44% increase in the G0/G1 population, which could be reversed by reexposure to Ep even after 72 hours of hormone withdrawal. As little as 2 hours of exposure to Ep was sufficient to stimulate DNA synthesis, and the lag time for initiation of DNA synthesis after exposure to the hormone was approximately 10 hours as measured by either incorporation of labeled thymidine into DNA or cell cycle analysis by flow cytometry. RNA synthesis, by contrast, was initiated within 2 hours after exposure to Ep and did not require DNA synthesis. Total cell DNA content increased after exposure to Ep, indicating that it was acting as mitogen in HCD-57 cells. Ep was also able to stimulate DNA synthesis in the absence of serum as well as in its presence, indicating that the hormone could act as both a competence and a progression factor. Qualitative analysis of the integrity of HCD-57 DNA by electrophoresis in agar as well as direct measurement of DNA fragmentation after metabolic labeling with radioactive thymidine indicated that programmed cell death was occurring that could be reduced but not completely prevented by Ep. These data indicate that Ep acts as both a mitogen and a survival factor for HCD-57 cells.

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