Erythropoietin prevents in vitro glutamate-induced neuronal death and could play a role in the central nervous system. We investigated the in vivo effects of recombinant human erythropoietin after intraperitoneal (i.p.; 25-100 U) or intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.; 0.25-25 U) administration on survival, brain malonildialdehyde (MDA) levels, brain edema, hippocampal neuronal death and brain nitric oxide (NO) synthesis after bilateral carotid occlusion (5 min), followed by reperfusion in the Mongolian gerbil. Peripheral posttreatment with recombinant human erythropoietin reduced postischemic MDA levels, brain edema and increased survival. Either peripheral or i.c.v. posttreatment with recombinant human erythropoietin significantly reduced hippocampal CA1 neuronal loss, observed 7 days after the ischemic event. Increase of nitrite and nitrate (as an index of NO formation) in the hippocampus, as observed after ischemia, was reduced in animals treated with recombinant human erythropoietin. These data suggest that in vivo recombinant human erythropoietin effects on brain ischemic injury could be due to inhibition of NO overproduction.