EPO is a nootropic

Wednesday, 10 September, 2008

Erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone that increases red blood cells and is used as a performance enhancer for athletic performance, has now been shown to enhance memory in normal, healthy mice. Mice that received EPO injections had enhanced memory for 3-4 weeks afterwards, which is longer than the elevation in red blood cell count lasts.

This effect isn’t actually novel, as other researchers had noticed that EPO improved brain function over 18 years ago (Grimm et al, 1990), and research into mental illness has also suggested that EPO has an effect on brain function (Ehrenreich et al, 2004). But it was always thought to be dependent on the change in red blood cells, but more recent evidence has suggested it works independently of effects on blood cells (Miskowiak et al, 2007). This mouse model confirms this.

Of course, the researchers have been focusing on this as a treatment, but anyone can see that this is a promising enhancement too. This mouse research showed that EPO enhanced memory and athletic function in healthy mice. It enhances both athletic and mental performance – how good is that?

Then again, if EPO becomes a common cognitive enhancer, it will mean that few of us normal people would ever be able to compete in the Olympics. It was only in 2004 that caffeine was allowed in professional competition, but pretty soon college students will be doping themselves with EPO as a biochemical study aid. It will be interesting when almost all normal people would not be able to pass an Olympic-level drug test.

The possibility exists, however, that we may want the cognitive boost without increasing our red blood cells too much. And now that we know the cognitive effects of EPO are independent of red blood cell production, this may be possible too. Make a drug that stimulates the brain like EPO does, but doesn’t effect an increase in red blood cells. And this study has gone a long way to unraveling the relevant effects of EPO on neuronal plasticity that underly the enhancement to memory circuitry in the brain, which means that we may be able to find drugs that do so more effectively than EPO or act on other brain functions.


One comment

  1. As a cyclist and someone who has taken piracetam as a nootropic it is kinda funny to see EPO as a cognitive enhancer. But really it is no surprise since it helps the body with oxygen flow.

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