The aim of this study was to investigate the protective effect and mechanism of EPO on the apoptosis induced by high levels of glucose in retinal ganglial cells (RGCs). High glucose-induced apoptosis model was established in RGCs isolated from SD rats (1-3 days old) and identified with Thy1.1 mAb and MAP-2 pAb. The apoptosis was determined by Hochest assay. The levels of ROS were quantitated by staining the cells with dichloro-dihydro-fluorescein diacetate (DCFH-DA) and measure by flow cytometry. The SOD, GSH-Px, CAT activities, and levels of T-AOC and MDA were determined by ELISA. Change in mitochondrial membrane potential (Δψm) was also assessed by flow cytometry, and expressions of Bcl-2, Bax, caspase-3, caspase-9, and cytochrome C were assessed by western blotting. The RGCs treated with high glucose levels exhibited significantly increased apoptotic rate and concentrations of ROS and MDA. Pretreatment of the cells with EPO caused a significant blockade of the high glucose-induced increase in ROS and MDA levels and apoptotic rate. EPO also increased the activities of SOD, GSH-Px, and CAT, and recovered the levels of T-AOC levels. As a consequence, the mitochondrial membrane potential was improved and Cyt c release into the cytoplasm was prevented which led to significantly suppressed up-regulation of Bax reducing the Bax/Bcl-2 ratio. The expressions of caspase-3 and caspase-9 induced by high glucose exposure were also ameliorated in the RGCs treated with EPO. The protective effect of EPO against apoptosis was mediated through its antioxidant action. Thus, it blocked the generation of pro-apoptotic proteins and apoptotic degeneration of the RGCs by preventing the mitochondrial damage.