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Erythropoietin is a 30.4 kDa glycoprotein produced by the kidney, which is mostly known for its physiological function in regulating red blood cell production in the bone marrow Accumulating evidence, however suggests that erythropoietin has additional organ protective effects, which may specifically be useful in protecting the brain and kidneys from injury. Experimental evidence suggests that these protective mechanisms are multi-factorial in nature and may include inhibition of apoptotic cell death, stimulation of cellular regeneration, inhibition of deleterious pathways and promotion of recovery. In this article we review the physiology of erythropoietin, assess previous work that supports the role of erythropoietin as a general tissue protective agent and explain the mechanisms by which it may achieve this tissue protective effect. We then focus on specific laboratory and clinical data that suggest that erythropoietin has a strong brain protective and kidney protective effect. In addition, we comment on the implications of these studies for clinicians at the bedside and for researchers designing controlled trials to further elucidate the true clinical utility of erythropoietin as a neuroprotective and nephroprotective agent. Finally, we describe EPO-TBI, a double-blinded multi-centre randomised controlled trial involving the authors that is being conducted to investigate the organ protective effects of erythropoietin on the brain, and also assesses its effect on the kidneys.

Original publication





Anaesthesia and intensive care

Publication Date





356 - 372


Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Research Centre, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


Brain, Animals, Humans, Erythropoietin, Receptors, Erythropoietin, Neuroprotective Agents, Protective Agents, Clinical Trials as Topic, Acute Kidney Injury