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Erythropoietin in cardiac disease: effective or harmful?

Mastromarino, Vittoria; Musumeci, Maria B.; Conti, Elena; Tocci, Giuliano; Volpe, Massimo

Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine: December 2013 - Volume 14 - Issue 12 - p 870–878
doi: 10.2459/JCM.0b013e328362c6ae
Reviews: Therapy

Discovered as the primary regulator of erythropoiesis, erythropoietin (EPO) is involved in a broad variety of processes that play a major role in cardiovascular diseases. In particular, the antiapoptotic and pro-angiogenic properties of EPO have prompted a growing interest in the use of EPO for the treatment of myocardial infarction and heart failure. In a variety of myocardial ischemic injury animal models, EPO administration has been shown to acutely reduce infarct size, thereby preserving ventricular function. In addition, cardiac long-term effects of EPO, such as prevention of ventricular remodeling and heart failure, have been described. In recent years, several trials have tested the effects of recombinant human erythropoietin (rhEPO) administration in patients with myocardial infarction and chronic heart failure, in the attempt to translate the cardioprotection found in experimental models to human patients. In view of the generally controversial findings, in this updated review we provide an overview of the results of the most recent trials that investigated the role of erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs), including rhEPO and its analogue darbepoetin, in the treatment of acute myocardial infarction and heart failure. The problems related to safety and tolerability of ESA therapy are also discussed. Our analysis of the available literature demonstrates that the results of clinical studies in patients with cardiac disease are not uniform and the conclusions are contradictory. Further larger prospective studies are required to test clinical efficacy and safety of EPO.

aCardiology Unit, Department of Clinical and Molecular Medicine, University ‘Sapienza’, Rome

bIRCCS Neuromed Pozzilli (IS), Pozzilli, Italy

Correspondence to Professor Massimo Volpe, MD, FAHA, FESC, Chair and Division Cardiology, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Clinical and Molecular Medicine, Sant’Andrea Hospital, University of Rome ‘Sapienza’, Via di Grottarossa 1037 00189, Rome, Italy Tel: +39 06 3377 5561; fax: +39 06 337 75061; e-mail:

Received 21 January, 2013

Revised 12 April, 2013

Accepted 25 April, 2013

© 2013 Italian Federation of Cardiology. All rights reserved.