Reportedly, recombinant human erythropoietin (rhEpo) can induce constriction of isolated resistance vessels. We have studied whether rhEpo affects cytosolic calcium concentration, [Ca2+]i, and contraction of cultured smooth-muscle cells grown from rat renal corpuscles and aortae. rhEpo at high dose (> or = 20 U/mL) induced a transient increase in [Ca2+]i as detected by fura-2 fluorescence analysis. The number of cells responding with an increase in [Ca2+]i was dose-dependent. No significant changes of [Ca2+]i occurred when lower doses of rhEpo (< 20 U/mL) were applied. The effect of Epo on contraction was studied by phase-contrast microscopy. The number of cells responding with contraction was dose-dependent, too (76% mesangial cells contracting at 200 U rhEpo per mL). The receptor mechanism of this unusual action of Epo still needs to be clarified.