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Biol Psychiatry. 2009 Aug 1;66(3):267-74. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2008.12.005. Epub 2009 Jan 29.

Erythropoietin induction by electroconvulsive seizure, gene regulation, and antidepressant-like behavioral effects.

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Division of Molecular Psychiatry, Abraham Ribicoff Research Facilities, Connecticut Mental Health Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.



The neuroprotective and trophic actions of erythropoietin (EPO) have been tested in several animal models of insult, injury, and neurodegeneration. Recent studies in human volunteers demonstrated that EPO improves cognition and also elicits antidepressant effects. It is believed that the behavioral effects are mediated by EPO's trophic effect on neuronal systems. We therefore tested whether EPO is able to alter behavior and brain gene expression in rats.


The expression of EPO and EPO receptor (EPOR) in multiple brain regions was examined by quantitative polymerase chain reaction, in situ hybridization, and immunohistochemistry. The regulation of EPO and the transcription factor hypoxia-induced factor-alpha (HIF1alpha) after electroconvulsive seizure (ECS) was investigated. Behavioral effects of EPO were tested in the rodent forced swimming and novelty-induced hypophagia (NIH) models. EPO gene profiles were obtained by microarray analysis of the hippocampus after intracerebroventricular infusion.


EPO and EPOR were widely expressed in the brain albeit at low levels. Highest level of EPO and EPOR were in the choroid plexus and striatum, respectively. Peripheral administration of EPO was sufficient to produce a robust antidepressant-like effect in the forced swim and NIH tests. Gene expression profiles revealed that EPO induces the expression of neurotrophic genes such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, VGF (nonacronymic), and neuritin.


EPO is induced by ECS and independently exhibits antidepressant-like efficacy in the forced swim and NIH tests. EPO regulates the expression of genes implicated in antidepressant action and appears to be a candidate molecule for further testing in neuropsychiatry.

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