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OBJECTIVE: Erythropoietin (Epo) has neuroprotective and neurotrophic effects, and may be a novel therapeutic agent in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. We have demonstrated antidepressant-like effects of Epo on the neural and cognitive processing of facial expressions in healthy volunteers. The current study investigates the effects of Epo on the neural and cognitive response to emotional facial expressions in depressed patients. METHOD: Nineteen acutely depressed patients were randomized to receive Epo (40,000 IU) or saline intravenously in a double-blind, parallel-group design. On day 3, we assessed neuronal responses to fearful and happy faces using functional magnetic resonance imaging and measured facial expression recognition after the scan. RESULTS: Epo reduced neural response to fearful vs. happy faces in the amygdala and hippocampus, and to fearful faces vs. baseline in superior temporal and occipitoparietal regions 3 days after administration in acutely depressed patients. This was accompanied by a specific reduction in the recognition of fear in Epo-treated patients after the scan similar to the effects on face recognition seen with antidepressant drug treatment. CONCLUSIONS: The present findings are similar to the effects of conventional antidepressants in acutely depressed patients and opposite to hypervigilance to negative facial expressions in depression. This highlights a potential antidepressant mechanism and warrants further investigation of Epo as a new candidate compound for treatment of depression.

Original publication




Journal article


Psychopharmacology (Berl)

Publication Date





419 - 428


Adult, Antidepressive Agents, Biomarkers, Cognition, Depression, Emotions, Erythropoietin, Facial Expression, Female, Hippocampus, Humans, Male, Photic Stimulation, Young Adult