The growth factor erythropoietin (Epo) has shown neuronal protective action in addition to its well known proerythroid activity. Furthermore, Epo has dealt with cellular inflammation by inhibiting the expression of several proinflammatory cytokines, such as IL-1 and TNF-alpha. The action of TNF can have both apoptotic and antiapoptotic consequences due to altered balance between different cell signalling pathways. This work has focused on the apoptotic effects of this cytokine and the potential protective action of Epo. The model we used was neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y cells cultured in the presence of 25 ng/ml TNF-alpha or pretreated with 25 U/ml Epo for 12 h before the addition of TNF-alpha. Apoptosis was evaluated by differential cell count after Hoechst staining, analysis of DNA ladder pattern, and measurement of caspase activity. Despite its ability to induce NF-kappaB nuclear translocation, TNF-alpha induced cell death, which was found to be associated to upregulation of TNF Receptor 1 expression. On the other hand, cells activated by Epo became resistant to cell death. Prevention of death receptor upregulation and caspase activation may explain this antiapoptotic effect of Epo, which may be also favoured by the induction of a higher expression of protective factors, such as Bcl-2 and NF-kappaB, through mechanisms involving Jak/STAT and PI3K signalling pathways.