Recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO) is neuroprotective in animal models of adult spinal cord injury, and reduces apoptosis in adult dorsal root ganglia after spinal nerve crush. The present work demonstrates that spinal cord and dorsal root ganglia share dynamic expression patterns of EPO and its receptor (EPOR) during development. C57Bl mice from embryonic days (E) 8 (E8) to E19 were studied. In spinal cord and dorsal root ganglia, EPOR expression in all precursor cells preceded the expression of EPO in subsets of neurons. On E11, EPO-immunoreactive spinal motoneurons and ganglionic sensory neurons resided adjacent to EPOR-expressing radial glial cells and satellite cells, respectively. From E12 onwards, EPOR-immunoreactivity decreased in radial glial cells and, transiently, in satellite cells. Simultaneously, large-scale apoptosis of motoneurons and sensory neurons started, and subsets of neurons were labelled by antibodies against EPOR. Viable neurons expressed EPO and EPOR. Up to E12.5, apoptotic cells were EPOR-immunopositive, but variably EPO-immunonegative or EPO-immunopositive. Thereafter, EPO-immunonegative and EPOR-immunopositive apoptotic cells predominated. Our findings suggest that EPO-mediated neuron-glial and, later, neuron–neuronal interactions promote the differentiation and/or the survival of subsets of neurons and glial cells in central as well as in peripheral parts of the embryonic nervous system. Correspondingly, expression of phospho-Akt-1/protein-kinase B extensively overlapped expression sites of EPO and EPOR, but was absent from apoptotic cells. Identified other sites of EPO and/or EPOR expression include radial glial cells that transform to astrocytes, cells of the floor plate and notochord as well as neural crest-derived boundary cap cells at motor exit points and cells of the primary sympathetic chain.