EPO (erythropoietin) has long been identified as a primary regulator of erythropoiesis. Subsequently, EPO has been recognized as playing a role in a broad variety of processes in cardiovascular pathophysiology. In particular, the tight interactions of EPO with the nitric oxide pathway, apoptosis, ischaemia, cell proliferation and platelet activation appear of great interest. Although enhanced EPO synthesis is viewed as an appropriate compensatory mechanism in the cardio–renal syndrome, which features CHF (congestive heart failure) and CRF (chronic renal failure), maladaptative excessive EPO synthesis in the advanced stages of these diseases appears to be predictive of higher mortality. Clinical trials based on the use of EPO in both heart and renal failure have so far produced contradictory results, whereas treatment targeted to restore low Hb levels appears rational and is supported by regulatory authorities. New areas for therapeutic use of EPO, such as acute coronary syndromes, are under investigation, and they are discussed in the present review together with other clinical applications in cardiovascular diseases. The revisited concept of a potential use of endogenous EPO levels as a predictor of CHF severity, as well as in the monitoring of responses to treatment, deserves appropriate investigation, as this may identify EPO as a useful biomarker in the clinical management of cardiovascular diseases.

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