Biology of erythropoietin

Wolfgang Jelkmann*, Thomas Hellwig-Bürgel

*Corresponding author for this work
55 Citations (Scopus)


Hypoxia induces tissue-specific gene products such as erythropoietin (EPO) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which improve the peripheral O2 supply, and glucose transporters and glycolytic enzymes, which adapt cells to reduced O2 availability. EPO has been the fountainhead in research on pO2-dependent synthesis of proteins. The EPO gene enhancer (like the flanking DNA-elements of several other pO2-controlled genes) contains a consensus sequence (CGTG) that binds the trans-acting dimeric hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1 α/β). The α-subunit of HIF-1 is rapidly degraded by the proteasome under normoxic conditions, but it is stabilized on occurrence of hypoxia. HIF-1 DNA-binding is also increased by insulin, and by interleukin-1 and tumor necrosis factor. Thus, in some aspects there is synergy in the cellular responses to hypoxia, glucose deficiency and inflammation. In viewing clinical medicine recombinant human EPO (rHu-EPO) has become the mainstay of treatment for renal anemia. Endogenous EPO and rHu-EPO are similar except for minor differences in the pattern of their 4 carbohydrate chains. RHu-EPO is also administered to patients suffering from non-renal anemias, such as in autoimmune diseases or malignancies. The correction of anemia in patients with solid tumors is not merely considered a palliative intervention. Hypoxia promotes tumor growth. However, the benefits of the administration of rHu-EPO to tumor patients with respect to its positive effects on tumor oxygenation, tumor growth inhibition and support of chemo- and radiotherapy is still debatable ground.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAdvances in experimental medicine and biology
Pages (from-to)169-187
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 2001

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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