, Volume 55, Supplement 1, pp 1–9

The Significance of Continuous Dopaminergic Stimulation in the Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease

  • Thomas N. Chase

DOI: 10.2165/00003495-199855001-00001

Cite this article as:
Chase, T.N. Drugs (1998) 55(Suppl 1): 1. doi:10.2165/00003495-199855001-00001


Levodopa continues to be the most effective agent for the symptomatic treatment of Parkinson’s disease. No other drug matches its ability to suppress parkinsonian symptoms, especially in patients with advanced disease. But over time, initial benefits begin to wane, not so much because of a decline in efficacy against core symptoms, but rather because of a rise in adverse effects. Most common are the motor response complications that appear within a few years of treatment initiation and ultimately affect most parkinsonian patients. These progressively disabling complications include response fluctuations and abnormal involuntary movements.

Current evidence indicates that ‘wearing-off’ fluctuations, typically the first motor complication to become clinically evident, initially reflect the loss of buffering normally provided by striatal dopaminergic terminals. Thus, with increasing degeneration of the nigrostriatal system, swings in plasma levodopa concentrations associated with standard dosage regimens produce nonphysiological fluctuations in intrasynaptic dopamine. As a result of long term discontinuous stimulation, secondary changes occur at sites downstream from the dopamine system and now appear to underlie the progressive worsening of ‘wearing-off’ phenomena as well as the eventual appearance of other response complications.

Chronic intermittent stimulation of normally tonically active dopaminergic receptors activates specific signalling cascades in striatal dopaminoceptive medium spiny neurons, and this evidently results in long term potentiation of the synaptic efficacy of glutamate receptors of the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) subtype on these GABAergic efferents. As a consequence of their increasing sensitivity to excitation by cortical glutamatergic projections, it would, however, appear that medium spiny neuron function changes to favour the appearance of response fluctuations of the ‘on-off’ type and peak dose dyskinesias.

The inability of standard levodopa treatment to restore striatal dopaminergic function in a more physiological manner clearly contributes to the appearance of motor complications. Continuous dopaminergic replacement not only reverses these complications in parkinsonian patients but also prevents their development in animal models of Parkinson’s disease. Thus, pharmaceutical approaches that provide relatively continuous dopamine receptor stimulation might confer both prophylactic and palliative benefit to parkinsonian patients. Several such strategies are currently under development, and include various methods to prolong the duration of action of levodopa as well as the use of transdermally administered or very long acting dopamine agonists.

Copyright information

© Adis International Limited 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas N. Chase
    • 1
  1. 1.Experimental Therapeutics BranchNINDS, NIHBethesdaUSA
  2. 2.BethesdaUSA

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