Hypoxia increases erythropoiesis mediated by hypoxia-inducible transcription factors (HIF), which regulate erythropoietin transcription. Neocytolysis is a physiological mechanism that corrects polycythemia from chronic sustained hypoxemia by transient, preferential destruction of young RBCs after normoxia is restored. We showed that neocytolysis is caused by excessive mitochondrial-derived reactive oxygen species in reticulocytes mediated by downregulation of HIF-controlled BNIP3L regulated mitophagy and a decrease in RBC antioxidant catalase (CAT) in hypoxia-produced erythrocytes. Decreased CAT results from hypoxia-induced miR-21 that downregulates CAT. This correlates with a transient acute decrease of HIF-1 at normoxic return that is associated with normalization of red cell mass.