Erythropoietin (EPO) is a glycoprotein that is mainly produced in the adult kidney, and it was initially highlighted for its action on the hematopoietic system. Moreover, EPO is also expressed in several non-hematopoietic tissues, where it plays a role in the protection from apoptosis and inflammation due to hypoxia, toxicity or injury. These protective effects are mainly known and studied in cardioprotection and neuroprotection but are also reported in retina degeneration, auditory injury and pancreatic-related diseases. The tissue protective effect of EPO is mainly mediated through the interaction with the heterodimeric receptor EPOR/βcR. Human recombinant EPO (HuREPO), which has been developed to treat anemia, is not adequate for tissue protection. The low affinity of the alternative receptor for EPO involves the injection of excessive concentration of erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs), implicating side effects due to the cross-talk with hematopoietic activity. For these reasons, EPO derivatives with less affinity for the EPO homodimeric receptor are under development. In this review, we provide an overview of the erythroid and non-erythroid functions of EPO by detailing the molecular mechanisms activated by the binding of EPO to its receptors in different tissues.
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