BACKGROUND Patients receiving recombinant human erythropoietin (rHuEPO) may experience side effects arising from the vascular system. The underlying mechanisms, however, are largely unknown. METHODS To elucidate downstream events following erythropoietin receptor triggering, a differential display analysis of human vascular endothelial cell mRNA was performed. RESULTS We identified eight genes that were upregulated by rHuEPO as confirmed in two further independent cell culture experiments using a semiquantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) protocol. The genes coded for proteins that may be assigned to four different groups: 1) proteins implicated in the regulation of vascular functions (thrombospondin-1, 20 kDa myosin regulatory light chain; relative increase of rHuEPO induced mRNA levels: 155.2%, P = 0.043; 137.6%, P = 0.046, respectively); 2) gene products involved in gene transcription and/or translation (c-myc purine-binding transcription factor PuF, tryptophanyl-tRNA synthetase, S19 ribosomal protein; increase of mRNA levels: 126.4%, P = 0.032; 150.9%, P = 0.012; 134.9%, P = 0.038); 3) subunits of mitochondrial enzymes related to energy transfer (NADH dehydrogenase subunit 6, cytochrome C oxidase subunit 1; increase of mRNA concentrations: 141.7%, P = 0.007; 140.3%, P = 0.01); and 4) regulators of signal transduction (protein tyrosine phosphatase G1, increase of transcript level: 160.3%, P = 0.016). CONCLUSIONS We report on novel molecular downstream events following rHuEPO receptor triggering of human vascular endothelial cells. We identified EPO-responsive immediate-early genes, coding for proteins involved in vascular functions, gene transcription, and/or translation, energy transfer, and signal transduction. Thus, our data provide new insights into the molecular changes induced by EPO in human vascular endothelial cells.