Tissue injury, hypoxia and significant metabolic stress activate innate immune responses driven by tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α and other proinflammatory cytokines that typically increase damage surrounding a lesion. In a compensatory protective response, erythropoietin (EPO) is synthesized in surrounding tissues, which subsequently triggers antiinflammatory and antiapoptotic processes that delimit injury and promote repair. What we refer to as the sequelae of injury or disease are often the consequences of this intentionally discoordinated, primitive system that uses a "scorched earth" strategy to rid the invader at the expense of a serious lesion. The EPO-mediated tissue-protective system depends on receptor expression that is upregulated by inflammation and hypoxia in a distinctive temporal and spatial pattern. The tissue-protective receptor (TPR) is generally not expressed by normal tissues but becomes functional immediately after injury. In contrast to robust and early receptor expression within the immediate injury site, EPO production is delayed, transient and relatively weak. The functional EPO receptor that attenuates tissue injury is distinct from the hematopoietic receptor responsible for erythropoiesis. On the basis of current evidence, the TPR is composed of the β common receptor subunit (CD131) in combination with the same EPO receptor subunit that is involved in erythropoiesis. Additional receptors, including that for the vascular endothelial growth factor, also appear to be a component of the TPR in some tissues, for example, the endothelium. The discoordination of the EPO response system and its relative weakness provide a window of opportunity to intervene with the exogenous ligand. Recently, molecules were designed that preferentially activate only the TPR and thus avoid the potential adverse consequences of activating the hematopoietic receptor. On administration, these agents successfully substitute for a relative deficiency of EPO production in damaged tissues in multiple animal models of disease and may pave the way to effective treatment of a wide variety of insults that cause tissue injury, leading to profoundly expanded lesions and attendant, irreversible sequelae.