Cardiovascular Toxicology

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 201–210 | Cite as

Erythropoietin Promotes Deleterious Cardiovascular Effects and Mortality Risk in a Rat Model of Chronic Sports Doping

  • Nuno Piloto
  • Helena M. Teixeira
  • Edite Teixeira-Lemos
  • Belmiro Parada
  • Patrícia Garrido
  • José Sereno
  • Rui Pinto
  • Lina Carvalho
  • Elísio Costa
  • Luís Belo
  • Alice Santos-Silva
  • Frederico Teixeira
  • Flávio ReisEmail author
Original Research


Athletes who abuse recombinant human erythropoietin (rhEPO) consider only the benefit to performance and usually ignore the potential short and long-term liabilities. Elevated haematocrit and dehydratation associated with intense exercise may reveal undetected cardiovascular risk, but the mechanisms underlying it remain to be fully explained. This study aimed to evaluate the cardiovascular effects of rhEPO in rats under chronic aerobic exercise. A ten week protocol was performed in four male Wistar rat groups: control—sedentary; rhEPO—50 IU kg−1, 3 times/wk; exercised (EX)—swimming for 1 h, 3 times/wk; EX + rhEPO. One rat of the EX + rhEPO group suffered a sudden death episode during the week 8. rhEPO in trained rats promoted erythrocyte count increase, hypertension, heart hypertrophy, sympathetic and serotonergic overactivation. The suddenly died rat’s tissues presented brain with vascular congestion; left ventricular hypertrophy, together with a “cardiac-liver”, suggesting the hypothesis of heart failure as cause of sudden death. In conclusion, rhEPO doping in rats under chronic exercise promotes not only the expected RBC count increment, suggesting hyperviscosity, but also other serious deleterious cardiovascular and thromboembolic modifications, including mortality risk, which might be known and assumed by all sports authorities, including athletes and their physicians.


rhEPO Doping Chronic aerobic exercise Cardiovascular and mortality risk 



We are very grateful to Roche Pharmaceuticals for providing the rhEPO used.


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Copyright information

© Humana Press 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nuno Piloto
    • 1
  • Helena M. Teixeira
    • 2
  • Edite Teixeira-Lemos
    • 1
  • Belmiro Parada
    • 1
  • Patrícia Garrido
    • 1
  • José Sereno
    • 1
  • Rui Pinto
    • 3
  • Lina Carvalho
    • 4
  • Elísio Costa
    • 5
    • 6
  • Luís Belo
    • 6
    • 7
  • Alice Santos-Silva
    • 6
    • 7
  • Frederico Teixeira
    • 1
    • 6
  • Flávio Reis
    • 1
    • 6
    Email author
  1. 1.Institute of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics, IBILI, Medicine Faculty, Sub-Unit 1 (Polo III)Coimbra UniversityCoimbraPortugal
  2. 2.Forensic Toxicology LaboratoryNorth Branch of the National Institute of Legal MedicinePortoPortugal
  3. 3.Pharmacology & Pharmacotoxicology Unit, Pharmacy SchoolLisbon UniversityLisbonPortugal
  4. 4.Institute of Anatomic Patology Medicine FacultyCoimbra UniversityCoimbraPortugal
  5. 5.Institute of Health SciencesUniversity CatholicPortoPortugal
  6. 6.Institute for Molecular and Cellular BiologyPorto UniversityPortoPortugal
  7. 7.Department of Biochemistry, Pharmacy FacultyPorto UniversityPortoPortugal

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