Erythropoietin (EPO) shows promise as a neuroprotective agent in animal models of traumatic brain injury (TBI). However, clinical trials of the efficacy of EPO treatment in patients with TBI yield conflicting results. The authors conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to assess the effect of EPO in experimental animal models of TBI, the goal being to inform the design of future clinical trials.
The authors identified eligible studies by searching PubMed, Web of Science, MEDLINE, Embase, and Google Scholar in October 2013. Data were pooled using the random-effects model, and results were reported in terms of standardized mean difference. Statistical heterogeneity was examined using both I2 and chi-square tests, and the presence of small study effects was investigated with funnel plots and Egger tests. In-depth analyses were performed for lesion volume and neurobehavioral outcome, and the studies' methodological quality was also evaluated.
Of a total of 290 studies, 13 found an effect of EPO on lesion volume and neurobehavioral outcome. Overall, the methodological quality of the studies was poor, and there was evidence of statistical heterogeneity among the publications as well as small-study effects. However, in-depth analyses showed statistically significant findings in favor of a beneficial effect of EPO after TBI.
Despite limitations of this systematic review that may have influenced the findings, the authors conclude that EPO might be beneficial in treating experimental TBI in terms of reducing lesion volume and improving neurobehavioral outcome. However, this review also indicates that more well-designed and well-reported animal studies are needed.