To test the hypothesis that low-dose recombinant human erythropoietin (r-HuEpo) would be effective and safe therapy for the anemia of end-stage renal failure, we studied 37 chronic hemodialysis patients for 3 months before and 6 months after beginning treatment with r-HuEpo, 3,000 U, administered initially intravenously (IV) three times weekly. Hematocrit increased from a mean of 25.2 vol% into the target range (mean, 32.2 vol%, a 28% increase) by 4 months. Transfusion requirements were dramatically reduced. Eight patients (22%) had exacerbated or new development of hypertension, while in trials using higher doses this occurred in 35%. Vascular access thrombosis, dialyzer clotting, and seizures were not seen more frequently during r-HuEpo therapy. Dialyzer reuse was not affected. Low-dose r-HuEpo therapy is effective in most hemodialysis patients and may be associated with less adverse effects because of the slower increase in blood viscosity. As targets are reached, downward dosage adjustments need to be smaller when using an initial low-dose regimen.