Pharmacokinetic optimisation in the treatment of Parkinson's disease

Manuela Contin, Roberto Riva, Fiorenzo Albani, Agostino Baruzzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The current symptomatic treatment of Parkinson's disease mainly relies on agents which are able to restore dopaminergic transmission in the nigrostriatal pathway, such as the dopamine precursor levodopa or direct agonists of dopamine receptors. Ancillary strategies include the use of anticholinergic and antiglutamatergic agents or inhibitors of cerebral dopamine catabolism, such as monoamine oxidase type B inhibitors. Levodopa is the most widely used and effective drug. Its peculiar pharmacokinetics are characterised by an extensive presystemic metabolism, overcome by the combined use of extracerebral inhibitors of the enzyme aromatic-aminoacid decarboxylase and rapid absorption in the proximal small bowel by a saturable facilitated transport system shared with other large neutral amino acids. Drug transport from plasma to the brain is mediated by the same carriers operating in the intestinal mucosa. The main strategies to assure reproducibility of both drug intestinal absorption and delivery to the brain and clinical effect include standardisation of levodopa administration with respect to meal times and a controlled dietary protein intake. The levodopa plasma half-life is very short, resulting in marked plasma drug concentration fluctuations which are matched, as the disease progresses, with swings in the therapeutic response ('wearing-off' phenomena). 'Wearing-off' phenomena can be also associated, at the more advanced disease stages with a 'negative', both parkinsonism-exacerbating and dyskinetic effect of levodopa at subtherapeutic plasma concentrations. Dyskinesias may be also related to high-levodopa, excessive plasma concentrations. Recognition of the different levodopa toxic response patterns can be difficult on a clinical basis alone, and simultaneous monitoring of levodopa concentration-effect relationships may prove useful to disclose the underlying mechanism and in planning the correct pharmacokinetic management. Controlled-release levodopa formulations have been developed in an attempt to smooth out fluctuations in plasma profiles and matched therapeutic responses. The delayed levodopa absorption and lower plasma concentrations which characterise controlled-release formulations compared with standard forms must be taken into account when prescribing dosage regimens and can be complicating factors in the management of the advanced disease stages. The pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic characterisation of the other anti-parkinsonian agents is hampered by the lack of sensitive and specific analytical methods to measure their very low plasma drug concentrations and by the difficulty in quantitatively assessing overall moderate drug clinical effects. In clinical practice an optimal dosage schedule is still generally found for each patient on an empirical basis. Future strategies should focus on the search for pharmacological agents with a better kinetic profile, particularly a higher and reproducible bioavailability and a predictable relationship between plasma drug concentration and clinical response. Treatments aimed not only at controlling the symptoms, but also at slowing the neurodegenerative process, are currently under intensive investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)463-481
Number of pages19
JournalClinical Pharmacokinetics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)


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