Erythropoietin: A Candidate Treatment for Mood Symptoms and Memory Dysfunction in Depression

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2012 Feb;219(3):687-98. doi: 10.1007/s00213-011-2511-1. Epub 2011 Sep 23.


Objective: Current pharmacological treatments for depression have a significant treatment-onset-response delay, an insufficient efficacy for many patients and fail to reverse cognitive dysfunction. Erythropoietin (EPO) has neuroprotective and neurotrophic actions and improves cognitive function in animal models of acute and chronic neurodegenerative conditions and in patients with cognitive decline.

Methods: We systematically reviewed the published findings from animal and human studies exploring the potential of EPO to treat depression-related cognitive dysfunction and depression.

Results: We identified five animal studies (two in male rats, two in male mice and one in male rats and mice) and seven human proof-of-concept studies (five in healthy volunteers and two in depressed patients) that investigated the above. All of the reviewed animal studies but one and all human studies demonstrated beneficial effects of EPO on hippocampus-dependent memory and antidepressant-like effects. These effects appear to be mediated through direct neurobiological actions of EPO rather than upregulation of red cell mass.

Conclusions: The reviewed studies demonstrate beneficial effects of EPO on hippocampus-dependent memory function and on depression-relevant behavior, thus highlighting EPO as a candidate agent for future management of cognitive dysfunction and mood symptoms in depression. Larger-scale clinical trials of EPO as a treatment for mood and neurocognitive symptoms in patients with mood disorder are therefore warranted.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect / drug effects
  • Animals
  • Controlled Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Depression / drug therapy*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Erythropoietin / pharmacology
  • Erythropoietin / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Memory Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Memory Disorders / psychology
  • Mood Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Mood Disorders / psychology


  • Erythropoietin