The primary objectives of this study were to determine if erythropoietin (EPO) is neuroprotective to the photoreceptors in the retinal degeneration slow (rds) mouse in the absence of an increase in hematocrit and to determine if deglycosylated EPO (DEPO) is less neuroprotective. We performed subretinal injections of 10U EPO, DEPO or hyperglycosylated EPO (HEPO) in postnatal day 7 rds mice. Whole eye EPO levels were quantified by ELISA at specified time points post-injection. TUNEL analysis, hematocrit, and immunohistochemistry were performed at postnatal day 20. Half of the amount of EPO measured immediately after injection was detected less than 1 h later. Twenty four hours later, EPO levels were 1000 times lower than the amount originally detected. Uninjected rds mice contained 36 +/- 2 TUNEL-positive cells/mm retina and PBS injected mice contained 17 +/- 3 TUNEL-positive cells/mm retina. EPO, DEPO, and HEPO treated rds retinas contained 5 +/- 2, 9 +/- 2, and 3 +/- 1 TUNEL-positive cells/mm retina, respectively. The hematocrit was 43% in control and 41% in treated rds mice Previous studies have shown neuroprotection of the retina by treatment with as little as 24-39 mU EPO/mg total protein in the eye. In this study, we detected 40 mU/mg EPO in the eye 11 h after injection of 10 U EPO. Treatment with all forms of EPO tested was neuroprotective to the photoreceptors without a concomitant increase in hematocrit.