We studied 24 recipients of autologous bone marrow transplantation (ABMT) or allogeneic BMT (BMT) to determine whether impaired erythropoietin (Epo) response to anemia could delay full erythropoietic recovery. Observed Epo levels were compared with predicted levels based on the relationship between Epo and hematocrit in 125 control subjects. Circulating Epo levels were normal during conditioning and the early posttransplant period. Between days 21 and 180, Epo levels remained normal in ABMT patients but were inappropriately low for the degree of anemia in BMT patients. Median time to full erythropoietic engraftment was longer in BMT than in ABMT recipients. Circulating Epo returned to appropriate levels after day 180, except in patients with active cytomegalovirus infection. We conclude that impaired Epo response to anemia can contribute to delayed erythropoietic recovery after allogenic BMT. Renal toxicity of ciclosporin, interaction between host and donor marrow, and cytomegalovirus infection might play a role. This study could support the use of recombinant human Epo to accelerate erythropoietic engraftment after BMT.