Background: Erythropoietin possesses cellular protection properties. The aim of the present study was to test the hypothesis that in situ expression of recombinant human erythropoietin (rhEPO) would improve tissue repair in rat after myocardial infarction (MI).Methods and results: RhEPO-producing cardiac fibroblasts were generated ex vivo by transduction with retroviral vector. The anti-apoptotic effect of rhEPO-producing fibroblasts was evaluated by co-culture with rat neonatal cardiomyocytes exposed to H2O2-induced oxidative stress. Annexin V/PI assay and DAPI staining showed that compared with control, rhEPO forced expression markedly attenuated apoptosis and improved survival of cultured cardiomyocytes. To test the effect of rhEPO on the infarcted myocardium, Sprague-Dawley rats were subjected to permanent coronary artery occlusion, and rhEPO-producing fibroblasts, non-transduced fibroblasts, or saline, were injected into the scar tissue seven days after infarction. One month later, immunostaining identified rhEPO expression in the implanted engineered cells but not in controls. Compared with non-transduced fibroblasts or saline injection, implanted rhEPO-producing fibroblasts promoted vascularization in the scar, and prevented cell apoptosis. By two-dimensional echocardiography and postmortem morphometry, transplanted EPO-engineered fibroblasts did not prevent left ventricular (LV) dysfunction and adverse LV remodeling 5 and 9 weeks after MI.Conclusion: In situ expression of rhEPO enhances vascularization and reduces cell apoptosis in the infarcted myocardium. However, local EPO therapy is insufficient for functional improvement after MI in rat.