BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE Darbepoetin, a long-acting erythropoietin derivative, attenuates cardiomyocyte apoptosis and improves short-term (3 days) cardiac function, but the mechanisms responsible are unknown. We investigated potential mechanisms by which darbepoetin exerts cardioprotection following myocardial infarction in mice and the significance of the erythropoietin receptor (EPOR)-common I?-chain (c-I?-chain) heteroreceptor. EXPERIMENTAL APPROACH Mice underwent 60 min coronary occlusion followed by treatment with vehicle or a single dose of darbepoetin. Effects on gene expression, apoptosis and neutrophil accumulation in infarcted left ventricle were assessed 24 h later. Cardiac function, effects on vascularization and fibrosis were assessed 28 days later. The significance of EPOR-c-I?-chain heteroreceptor was examined 28 days after infarction using mice deficient in c-I?-chain. KEY RESULTS Twenty-four hours after darbepoetin, mRNAs encoding haeme oxygenase-1 (HO-1), iNOS and brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) were markedly elevated only in infarcted regions, and the frequency of apoptotic cells attenuated. Inflammation was also attenuated with reductions in neutrophil numbers. Darbepoetin also elevated mRNAs encoding angiogenic factors: placental growth factor, monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 and interleukin-1I?. Twenty-eight days after treatment, CD31+ vessels in the infarct zone doubled and fibrosis reduced. Cardiac haemodynamics were improved. Darbepoetin also improved cardiac haemodynamics in c-I?-chain-deficient mice, increased HO-1 and iNOS expression and vessel numbers and attenuated fibrosis. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS Darbepoetin stimulates expression of haeme oxygenase, iNOS, BNP and angiogenic factors specifically in infarcted left ventricle that attenuates inflammation, apoptosis and fibrosis; elevate vessel numbers; and improve cardiac function. The EPOR-c-I?-chain heteroreceptor is not essential for these effects. A? 2010 The British Pharmacological Society.