Erythropoietin (Epo) prevents ischemia and hypoxia-induced neuronal death in vitro. Recent studies have shown that this cytokine also has in vivo neuroprotective effects in cerebral and spinal ischemia in adult rodents. In this study, we aimed to investigate the effect of systemically administered recombinant human Epo on infarct volume and apoptotic neuronal death in a newborn rat hypoxic-ischemic brain injury model. Our results showed that a single dose of intraperitoneal Epo treatment (1,000 U/kg) significantly decreased the mean infarct volume as compared to the control group. In contrast to the Epo-treated group, histopathological examination by positive terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick end-labeling of the affected brain in control animals revealed widespread neuronal injury associated with numerous apoptotic cells. Morphometric analysis to determine the extent of damage quantitatively ascertained that the mean infarct volume was significantly lower in the Epo-treated group (p < 0.003). These results suggest the beneficial neuroprotective effect of Epo in this model of neonatal hypoxic-ischemic brain injury. To our knowledge, this is the first study that demonstrates a protective effect of Epo against hypoxia-ischemia in the developing brain. Copyright (C) 2003 S. Karger AG, Basel.