, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 261-273
Date: 01 Sep 2012

When Should Levodopa Therapy be Initiated in Patients with Parkinson’s Disease?

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Abstract

Levodopa is available in three forms: immediate-release, orally disintegrating and sustained-release tablets. Levodopa is metabolised in the gastrointestinal tract, kidney and liver by aromatic acid dopa decarboxylase using pyridoxine as a cofactor. Approximately 70–80% of the dose is eliminated in the urine. Central conversion of levodopa to dopamine likely occurs at surviving dopaminergic terminals and at serotonergic and adrenergic nerve terminals that contain decarboxylase. Dopamine is metabolised by catechol-O-methyltransferase and monoamine oxidase. The major metabolites of dopamine are homovanillic acid and dihydroxyphenylacetic acid.

Levodopa remains the most efficacious pharmacological treatment for the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Results of current levodopa trials suggest that treatment with levodopa at the onset of disease provides superior motor and functional control compared with dopamine receptor agonists. Moreover, levodopa is generally better tolerated with a lower incidence of gastrointestinal and neuropsychiatric adverse effects. The debate over the role of levodopa in the treatment of PD is fuelled by the results of in vitro studies that show generation of free radicals by levodopa and its toxic effects on cell cultures. Levodopa has also consistently been shown to produce motor fluctuations (in particular dyskinesias) sooner than has been observed in PD patients, especially younger patients, given dopamine agonists initially. However, the cumulative body of knowledge thus far does not show definitive evidence that levodopa is neurotoxic to parkinsonian patients.

In older PD patients with lesser risk of motor fluctuations, levodopa may be used initially, and perhaps solely, in demented PD patients and those at higher risk of developing neuropsychiatric adverse effects. In young parkinsonian patients with mild motor dysfunction, use of levodopa may be delayed or the dosage minimised. However, because of levodopa’s superior efficacy, when a rapid and sustained symptomatic improvement is required because of significant motor disability, levodopa may be used as the first-line agent regardless of age.