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BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Neurocognitive dysfunction complicates coronary artery bypass surgery. Erythropoietin may be neuroprotective. We sought to determine whether human recombinant erythropoietin would reduce the incidence of neurocognitive dysfunction after surgery. METHODS: We randomly assigned 32 elective first-time coronary artery bypass graft patients to receive placebo or 375 U/kg, 750 U/kg, or 1500 U/kg of recombinant human erythropoietin divided in 3 daily doses, starting the day before surgery. Primary outcomes were feasibility and safety, and secondary outcomes were neurocognitive dysfunction at discharge and 2 months. RESULTS: All subjects were male, mean age 60 years (range 46 to 73). No significant differences were found in pump time, cross-clamp time, or hospital length of stay. Mortality and pure red cell aplasia were not observed. One patient in the 375 U/kg group had ST changes compatible with myocardial injury immediately postoperative, but no other thrombotic complications were observed. Neurocognitive dysfunction occurred in 21/32 (66%) of patients at discharge and 5/32 (16%) at 2 months. Neurocognitive dysfunction at discharge by group was: placebo 6/8 (75%), 375 U/kg 4/8 (50%), 750 U/kg 6/8 (75%), and 1500 U/kg 5/8 (63%). Neurocognitive dysfunction at 2 months by group was: placebo 3/8 (38%), 375 U/kg 1/8 (13%), 750 U/kg 1/8 (13%), and 1500 U/kg 0/8 (0%). Neurocognitive dysfunction at 2 months for erythropoietin at any dose was 2/24 (8.3%) versus 3/8 (38%) for placebo (P=0.085). CONCLUSIONS: This study demonstrates feasibility and safety for the use of human recombinant erythropoietin as a neuroprotectant in coronary artery bypass graft surgery. A trend in the reduction of neurocognitive dysfunction at 2 months was associated with erythropoietin use. A multicenter randomized controlled trial is warranted.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





2769 - 2775


Aged, Cognition Disorders, Coronary Artery Bypass, Double-Blind Method, Erythropoietin, Feasibility Studies, Follow-Up Studies, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Neuroprotective Agents, Postoperative Complications, Recombinant Proteins