Recombinant human erythropoietin delays loss of gray matter in chronic schizophrenia

Mol Psychiatry. 2011 Jan;16(1):26-36, 1. doi: 10.1038/mp.2010.51. Epub 2010 May 18.


Neurodevelopmental abnormalities together with neurodegenerative processes contribute to schizophrenia, an etiologically heterogeneous, complex disease phenotype that has been difficult to model in animals. The neurodegenerative component of schizophrenia is best documented by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), demonstrating progressive cortical gray matter loss over time. No treatment exists to counteract this slowly proceeding atrophy. The hematopoietic growth factor erythropoietin (EPO) is neuroprotective in animals. Here, we show by voxel-based morphometry in 32 human subjects in a placebo-controlled study that weekly high-dose EPO for as little as 3 months halts the progressive atrophy in brain areas typically affected in schizophrenia, including hippocampus, amygdala, nucleus accumbens, and several neocortical areas. Specifically, gray matter protection is highly associated with improvement in attention and memory functions. These findings suggest that a neuroprotective strategy is effective against common pathophysiological features of schizophrenic patients, and strongly encourage follow-up studies to optimize EPO treatment dose and duration.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Atrophy / drug therapy
  • Attention / drug effects
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Erythropoietin / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroprotective Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Schizophrenia / drug therapy
  • Schizophrenia / pathology*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Erythropoietin