Mechanisms of Disease: erythropoietin resistance in patients with both heart and kidney failure

Nat Clin Pract Nephrol. 2008 Jan;4(1):47-57. doi: 10.1038/ncpneph0655.


Anemia is common in patients who have both heart failure and chronic kidney disease, and there is an association between anemia and progression of both diseases. The main causes of anemia are deficient production of erythropoietin (EPO), iron deficiency, and chronic disease with endogenous EPO resistance. EPO has been successfully used for over a decade to treat anemia in patients with chronic kidney disease. Less obvious are the safety and efficacy of EPO treatment in patients with both heart failure and renal disease. Up to 10% of patients receiving EPO are hyporesponsive to therapy and require large doses of the agent. Several mechanisms could explain resistance to endogenous and exogenous EPO. Proinflammatory cytokines antagonize the action of EPO by exerting an inhibitory effect on erythroid progenitor cells and by disrupting iron metabolism (a process in which hepcidin has a central role). EPO resistance might also be caused by inflammation, which has a negative effect on EPO receptors. Furthermore, neocytolysis could have a role. As resistance to exogenous EPO is associated with an increased risk of death, it is important to understand how cardiorenal failure affects EPO production and function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia / drug therapy*
  • Anemia / etiology
  • Anemia / physiopathology*
  • Drug Resistance
  • Erythropoietin / therapeutic use*
  • Heart Failure / complications*
  • Humans
  • Renal Insufficiency / complications*


  • Erythropoietin