The Runner's High

Erythropoietin stimulates brain for increased endurance

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Blood doping refers to the practice some professional athletes use to artificially raise their amount of red blood cells with repeat blood transfusions, and with higher levels of oxygen in their blood they can push the limits of human endurance.

As it turns out, the molecule that naturally increases red blood cell production, erythropoetin, may also have a more direct effect in the brain, apart from the effects on oxygen capacity.

"Ask your doctor about Epogen."

Researchers from the University of Zurich's Center for Integrative Human Physiology ran a series of experiments on mice and found a large improvement in the exercise ability of the mice, even when they prevented the hormone from leaving the brain.

Researchers now believe that the erythropoetin molecule may have a direct effect in the brain that boosts physical performance, apart from the effects on blood and increased oxygen carrying ability.

Max Gassmann and Beat Schuler, both of whom hold a doctorate in veterinary physiology, were co-authors on the research.

The two scientists tested repeat injections of human erythropoetin in mice, allowing the hormone time to take effect and alter the blood to carry more oxygen.

Then it was compared to placing erythropoetin directly in the brain of the mice, where it was isolated from any effect on the blood. The mice still exercised just as hard.

The final step in the experiment was to create a genetically modified mouse that was unable to have its blood production affected by erythropoetin, to ensure that absolutely no contamination was occurring.

Those mice as well showed increased levels of endurance and energy when given erythropoetin, when compared to their behavior and endurance without the drug.

Gassmann was willing to speculate on what the effects might be, and possible uses for this discovery, saying, "Most probably, Epo has a general effect on a person's mood and might be used in patients suffering from depression and related diseases."

Epogen is a direct replica of natural human erythropoetin, and is currently used in treating patients who are on hemodialysis, and for treating cases of anemia since their production of blood is impaired.

Use of erythropoetin was recently cautioned against since there is some evidence that extended use may cause blood clots, especially in patients currently being treated for cancer.

No psychological effects have been documented since the approval of Epogen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1989.

The study was published in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology on June 8, 2012.

Information regarding the researchers possible financial conflicts of interest was not made publicly available.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 29, 2012
Last Updated:
July 7, 2012