Current management of motor fluctuations in patients with advanced Parkinson's disease treated chronically with levodopa

Edad Melamed*, J. Zoldan, R. Galili-Mosberg, I. Ziv, R. Djaldetti

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Motor fluctuations after long-term administration of levodopa may be due to central pharmacodynamic mechanisms such as reduced striatal synthesis and storage of dopamine from exogenous levodopa and subsensitization of postsynaptic dopaminergic receptors. Peripheral pharmacokinetic mechanisms may be equally important, particularly in motor fluctuations of the 'delayed on' (increased time latencies from dose intake to start-up of clinical benefit) and 'no-on' (complete failure of a levodopa dose to exert an 'on' response) types. Levodopa itself has a very poor solubility. In addition, there is delayed gastric emptying in many advanced patients. Therefore, an oral dose of levodopa may remain in the stomach for long periods of time before it passes into the duodenum where there is immediate absorption. Consequently, in order to overcome response fluctuations caused by impaired pharmacokinetic mechanisms and to improve its absorption, we recommend that levodopa be taken in multiple small doses, on an empty stomach, preferably crushed and mixed with a lot of liquid. Protein intake should be minimized. Prokinetic drugs such as prepulsid (Cisaprid) could be used to facilitate gastric motility and levodopa transit time. Administration of crushed levodopa through nasoduodenal or gastrojejunostomy tubes may be helpful in certain circumstances. Bypassing the stomach with subcutaneous injections of apomorphine may provide dramatic rescue from difficult 'off' situations. Oral and s.c. administration of novel, extremely soluble prodrugs of levodopa, e.g., levodopa ethylester, may offer a new approach to overcome difficulties in levodopa absorption. Addition of dopamine agonists, MAO-B inhibitors, COMT inhibitors and controlled release levodopa preparations may be helpful in prolonging the duration of efficacy of each single levodopa dose. Levodopa, administered orally, usually combined with peripheral dopa decarboxylase inhibitors, continues to be the most widely-used and most effective pharmacological treatment for Parkinson's disease (Melamed, 1987). Undoubtedly, the outstanding therapeutic success of levodopa represents a dramatic and revolutionary breakthrough in medicine, in general, and in neurology, in particular. Although, since the introduction of levodopa, there have been many additional pharmacological and even surgical antiparkinsonian strategies, it still stands out as a mandatory axis of treatment in the majority of patients (Steigler and Quinn, 1992). Indeed, levodpa therapy improves, sometimes markedly, the monitor signs and symptoms of the illness, the functional capacity and quality of life and perhaps also life expectancy of the afflicted patients. It is therefore unfortunate that after an initial problem-free period of successful, smooth and stable clinical benefit from levodopa that lasts about two to five years, the responsiveness of may patients worsens with the emergence of variety of complications (Marsden et al., 1982; Hardie et al., 1984). These adverse reactions include dyskinesias and dystonia, psychotic problems and, particularly, the troublesome motor fluctuations (Marsden and Parkes, 1977; Marsden, 1994). The latter phenomenon may be particularly complex, limiting and disabling. It is believed that most patients on long-term levodopa therapy will, sooner or later, develop response fluctuations of varying types and severity (Riley and Lang, 1993). Because of the serious impact of these phenomena on the quality of life and function of the patients, many efforts are now being undertaken to identify the responsible mechanisms and to devise preventive and therapeutic measures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-183
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neural Transmission, Supplement
Issue number56
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes


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