We have evaluated the therapeutic activity of recombinant erythropoietin (rEpo), in comparison with recombinant interleukin-3 (rIL-3) and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (rGM-CSF), on a lethal form of acute anemia resulting from Fc gamma receptor- mediated erythrophagocytosis after a single injection (500 micrograms) of a monoclonal anti-mouse red blood cell (MRBC) autoantibody. Continuous perfusion of rEpo before the administration of anti-MRBC monoclonal antibody completely protected animals from death due to anemia with a rapid recovery, while no protection was obtained by rIL-3 perfusion. In contrast, rGM-CSF perfusion markedly accelerated the progression of anemia and the mortality rate. This was found to result from an enhancement of erythrophagocytosis by Kupffer cells and by polymorphonuclear leukocytes that massively infiltrated the livers. Even after the injection of a sublethal dose (100 micrograms) of anti- MRBC monoclonal antibody, rGM-CSF-perfused mice died of a severe form of acute anemia. Furthermore, we have shown that rEpo was able to treat efficiently a spontaneous form of autoimmune hemolytic anemia in a majority of anemic NZB mice, whereas rGM-CSF markedly aggravated anemia. This may be of clinical importance, because GM-CSF administration could exhibit an adverse effect in some autoimmune diseases that involve autoimmune anemia.