Brain erythropoietin fine-tunes a counterbalance between neurodifferentiation and microglia in the adult hippocampus

Cell Rep. 2021 Aug 24;36(8):109548. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2021.109548.


In adult cornu ammonis hippocampi, erythropoietin (EPO) expression drives the differentiation of new neurons, independent of DNA synthesis, and increases dendritic spine density. This substantial brain hardware upgrade is part of a regulatory circle: during motor-cognitive challenge, neurons experience "functional" hypoxia, triggering neuronal EPO production, which in turn promotes improved performance. Here, we show an unexpected involvement of resident microglia. During EPO upregulation and stimulated neurodifferentiation, either by functional or inspiratory hypoxia, microglia numbers decrease. Treating mice with recombinant human (rh)EPO or exposure to hypoxia recapitulates these changes and reveals the involvement of neuronally expressed IL-34 and microglial CSF1R. Surprisingly, EPO affects microglia in phases, initially by inducing apoptosis, later by reducing proliferation, and overall dampens microglia activity and metabolism, as verified by selective genetic targeting of either the microglial or pyramidal neuronal EPO receptor. We suggest that during accelerating neuronal differentiation, EPO acts as regulator of the CSF1R-dependent microglia.

Keywords: CSF1R; IL-34; PLX5622; apoptosis; hypoxia; microglia activity; neurodifferentiation; neurogenesis; proliferation; recombinant human EPO.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects*
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Erythropoietin / pharmacology*
  • Hippocampus / metabolism*
  • Hypoxia, Brain / drug therapy
  • Hypoxia, Brain / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microglia / metabolism*
  • Neurogenesis / drug effects*
  • Pyramidal Cells / metabolism*


  • EPO protein, human
  • Erythropoietin