CNS Drugs

, Volume 21, Issue 8, pp 677–692 | Cite as

Medical Management of Levodopa-Associated Motor Complications in Patients with Parkinson’s Disease

Review Article


Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects approximately 1% of people over the age of 60 years. Levodopa is standard, and often initial, therapy for patients with this condition; however, with continued treatment and as the disease progresses, up to 80% of patients experience ‘wearing-off’ symptoms, dyskinesias and other motor complications. These levodopa-associated problems may become disabling and profoundly affect quality of life. Medications commonly used to manage these symptoms include monoamine oxidase type B (MAO-B) inhibitors, catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) inhibitors, the NMDA receptor antagonist amantadine and dopamine receptor agonists.

Agents that block MAO-B, such as rasagiline and selegiline, are used as both initial and adjunctive therapy in patients with Parkinson’s disease. These medications increase concentrations of dopamine in the brain by blocking its reuptake from the synaptic cleft, a mechanism that can slow motor decline, increase ‘on’ time and improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Adverse events with these agents can include confusion, hallucination and orthostatic hypotension. MAO-B inhibition may elicit drug-drug interactions if administered with TCAs, SSRIs or serotonin-noradrenaline (norepinephrine) reuptake inhibitors. Conventional oral selegiline is associated with potentially harmful plasma concentrations of three major amfetamine metabolites, although metabolite concentrations are significantly lower with a new orally disintegrating tablet (ODT) selegeline formulation. Selegiline ODT is also absorbed more efficiently and shows less pharmacokinetic variability than conventional oral selegiline.

COMT mediates peripheral catabolism of levodopa. Therefore, agents that block COMT, such as tolcapone and entacapone, increase the elimination half-life of levodopa. Given adjunctively with levodopa, COMT inhibitors can decrease ‘off’ time and increase ‘on’ time, as well as lower the daily levodopa dose. Although more potent than entacapone, tolcapone requires monitoring for hepatotoxicity.

Amantadine is a noncompetitive NMDA receptor antagonist shown to lower dyskinesia scores and improve motor complications in patients with Parkinson’s disease when given adjunctively with levodopa.

Dopamine agonists, also used as initial and adjunctive therapy in Parkinson’s disease, improve motor response and decrease ‘off’ time purportedly through direct stimulation of dopamine receptors. Current dopamine agonists include bromocriptine, pergolide, cabergoline, lisuride, apomorphine, pramipexole, ropinirole and rotigotine. Although effective, this class of medications can be associated with cardiovascular and psychiatric adverse effects that can limit their utility.

All medications used to manage levodopa-associated motor complications in patients with Parkinson’s disease have had differing degrees of success. Although head-to-head comparisons of drugs within classes are rare, some differences have emerged related to effects on motor fluctuations, dyskinesias and on/off times, as well as to adverse effects. When choosing a drug to treat levodopa-induced complications, it is important to consider the risks and benefits of the different classes and of the specific agents within each class, given the different efficacy and safety profiles of each.



No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review. Dr Jankovic has acted as a consultant for Allergan, Eisai, Merz and Teva, and has received grants from Allergan, Amersham, Boehringer-Ingelheim, Cergene, Medtronic, Merz, Prestwick, Teva and Schwarz Pharma. Dr Stacy has acted as a consultant for and/or received honoraria and grants from GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Boehringer-Ingelheim, Vernalis, EMD Biosciences, Schantz and Schwarz Pharma.


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© Adis Data Information BV 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Parkinson’s Disease Center and Movement Disorders Clinic, Department of NeurologyBaylor College of MedicineHoustonUSA
  2. 2.Division of Neurology, Movement Disorders CenterDuke University Medical CenterDurhamUSA

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