SUMMARY Normal tissue function in mammals depends on adequate supply of oxygen through blood vessels. A discrepancy between oxygen supply and consumption(hypoxia) induces a variety of specific adaptation mechanisms at the cellular,local and systemic level. These mechanisms are in part governed by the activation of hypoxia-inducible transcription factors (HIF-1, HIF-2), which in turn modulate expression of hypoxically regulated genes such as those encoding vascular endothelial growth factor ( VEGF ) and erythropoietin( EPO ). EPO is a glycoprotein that is produced mainly by interstitial fibroblasts in the kidneys of the adult and in hepatocytes in the foetus. Released into the circulation, EPO makes its way to the bone marrow, where it regulates red cell production by preventing apoptosis of erythroid progenitor cells. Recently, EPO has emerged as a multifunctional growth factor that plays a significant role in the nervous system. Both EPO and its receptor are expressed throughout the brain in glial cells, neurones and endothelial cells. Hypoxia and ischaemia have been recognised as important driving forces of EPO expression in the brain. EPO has potent neuroprotective properties in vivo and in vitro and appears to act in a dual way by directly protecting neurones from ischaemic damage and by stimulating endothelial cells and thus supporting the angiogenic effect of VEGF in the nervous system. Thus,hypoxia-induced gene products such as VEGF and EPO might be part of a self-regulated physiological protection mechanism to prevent neuronal injury,especially under conditions of chronically reduced blood flow (chronic ischaemia). In this review, I will briefly summarize the recent findings on the molecular mechanisms of hypoxia-regulated EPO expression in general and give an overview of its expression in the central nervous system, its action as a growth factor with non-haematopoietic functions and its potential clinical relevance in various brain pathologies.