Hypoxia-induced increases in red blood cell production have been found in both altitude-adapted populations and acclimatized lowlanders. This process is mediated by erythropoietin (EPO) released mainly by the hypoxic kidney. We have previously observed high hemoglobin concentrations in elite breath-hold divers and our aim was to investigate whether apnea-induced hypoxia could increase EPO concentration. Ten healthy volunteers performed 15 maximal duration apneas, divided into three series of five apneas, each series separated by 10 min of rest. Apneas within series were separated by 2 min and preceded by 1 min of hyperventilation to increase apnea duration and arterial oxygen desaturation. When EPO concentration after serial apneas was compared to baseline values, an average maximum increase of 24% was found (P < 0.01). No changes in EPO concentration were observed during a control day without apnea, eliminating possible effects of a diurnal rhythm or blood loss. We therefore conclude that serial apneas increase circulating EPO concentration in humans.