Parkinson’s disease (PD) is primarily a disease of elderly patients. This article reviews current knowledge and recent developments relating to drugs that can be used as alternatives to levodopa as initial treatment of PD.
Synthetic orally acting dopamine agonists have found increasing favour as an option for early PD in relatively young patients. This strategy is based on evidence that this approach may delay the onset of motor fluctuations, at least during the first 5 years of treatment. Subcutaneous apomorphine infusions may attenuate motor fluctuations in late-stage disease, and transdermal rotigotine, a dopamine agonist in development, has also been shown to be efficacious. The greater proclivity for dopamine agonists to cause psychotoxicity has, however, limited their routine use in the elderly.
Selective monoamine oxidase type B (MAO-B) inhibitors, used as monotherapy, delay the need for the introduction of levodopa by about 9 months. These agents appear to be less efficacious than dopamine agonists but are better tolerated. Concern has been expressed about the potential of the MAO-B inhibitor selegiline (deprenyl) to induce cardiovascular adverse effects (orthostatic hypotension), either directly or through its amphetamine catabolites. Rasagiline is a new MAO-B inhibitor that is not broken down to amphetamine derivatives and is indicated as both monotherapy in early PD and as adjunctive therapy in PD patients with motor fluctuations.
Two older classes of agents have undergone a resurgence of interest in recent years. Amantadine, which enhances dopaminergic transmission and has antiglutamate activity, is occasionally used as monotherapy but has recently been widely used as an antidyskinetic agent in late-stage PD. Anticholinergic drugs, such as benztropine (benzatropine) and orphenadrine also provide control of symptoms when used as monotherapy, but their psychotoxic, cognitive and autonomic adverse events make them inappropriate for the treatment of the elderly.
Effective therapy in PD should prevent disease progression and abolish motor and cognitive handicap. Currently, none of the existing drugs meets all these needs.
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Dr Lees has sat on the Data Safety Monitoring Board for rasagiline trials for Teva, and he has received honoraria from GlaxoSmithKline Alliance, Orion, Roche, Novartis, Boehringer-Ingelheim.
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