Erythropoietin (Epo) is required for the production of mature red blood cells. The requirement for Epo and its receptor (EpoR) for normal heart development and the response of vascular endothelium and cells of neural origin to Epo provide evidence that the function of Epo as a growth factor or cytokine to protect cells from apoptosis extends beyond the hematopoietic lineage. We now report that the EpoR is expressed on myoblasts and can mediate a biological response of these cells to treatment with Epo. Primary murine satellite cells and myoblast C2C12 cells, both of which express endogenous EpoR, exhibit a proliferative response to Epo and a marked decrease in terminal differentiation to form myotubes. We also observed that Epo stimulation activates Jak2/Stat5 signal transduction and increases cytoplasmic calcium, which is dependent on tyrosine phosphorylation. In erythroid progenitor cells, Epo stimulates induction of transcription factor GATA-1 and EpoR; in C2C12 cells, GATA-3 and EpoR expression are induced. The decrease in differentiation of C2C12 cells is concomitant with an increase in Myf-5 and MyoD expression and inhibition of myogenin induction during differentiation, altering the pattern of expression of the MyoD family of transcription factors during muscle differentiation. These data suggest that, rather than acting in an instructive or specific mode for differentiation, Epo can stimulate proliferation of myoblasts to expand the progenitor population during differentiation and may have a potential role in muscle development or repair.