Newly published research shows that the erythropoietin receptor (EpoR) influences the process of cell division and growth for red blood cells, leading to higher quantities of larger red blood cells. The finding could be helpful in the realm of clean sport for detecting blood doping, while it will also have diagnostic relevance for those presenting with large red blood cells in a clinical setting.
The research, published in Nature Communications in December 2021, was funded in part by the Partnership for Clean Competition. Novel ways to detect blood doping are a significant priority for the PCC.
Erythropoietin (Epo) is a peptide hormone that stimulates red blood cell production, called erythropoiesis. Epo is known to increase performance in athletes, as it increases the amount of oxygen the blood can carry to muscles. Abusing Epo falls under the umbrella of “blood doping”.
In the paper, the global team of researchers behind the study demonstrate that the EpoR regulate the size of red blood cells, along with the speed of cell division.
Higher amounts of Epo trigger the EpoR to signal for larger blood cells.
Importantly, the researchers found that the larger blood cells persist even after the EpoR stimulation, leaving a window of potential detection.
The authors assert in the paper that finding larger blood cells could be interpreted to mean high Epo levels or potentially time at altitude.