There is increasing evidence that erythropoietin (Epo) has a protective function in cerebral ischemia. When used for treatment, high Epo plasma levels associated with increases in blood viscosity, however, may counteract beneficial effects of Epo in brain ischemia. The authors generated two transgenic mouse lines that overexpress human Epo preferentially, but not exclusively, in neuronal cells. In mouse line tg21, a fourfold increase of Epo protein level was found in brain only, whereas line tg6 showed a dramatic increase of cerebral and systemic transgene expression resulting in hematocrit levels of 80%. Cerebral blood flow (CBF), as determined by bolus tracking magnetic resonance imaging, was not altered in the tg6 line. The time-to-peak interval for the tracer, however, increased approximately threefold in polyglobulic tg6 mice. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed an increase in dilated vessels in tg6 mice, providing an explanation for unaltered CBF in polyglobulic animals. Permanent occlusion of the middle cerebral artery (pMCAO) led to similar perfusion deficits in wild-type, tg6, and tg21 mice. Compared with wild-type controls, infarct volumes were not significantly smaller (22%) in tg21 animals 24 hours after pMCAO, but were 49% enlarged (P < 0.05) in polyglobulic tg6 mice. In the latter animals, elevated numbers of Mac-1 immunoreactive cells in infarcted tissue suggested that leukocyte infiltration contributed to enlarged infarct volume. The current results indicate that moderately increased brain levels of Epo in tg21 transgenic mice were not sufficient to provide significant tissue protection after pMCAO. The results with tg6 mice indicate that systemic chronic treatment with Epo associated with elevated hematocrit might deteriorate outcome after stroke either because of the elevated hematocrit or other chronic effects.