Pharmacokinetics of levodopa

Manuela Contin, Paolo Martinelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper reviews the clinically relevant determinants of levodopa peripheral pharmacokinetics and main observed changes in the levodopa concentration-effect relationship with Parkinson's disease (PD) progression. Available clinically practical strategies to optimise levodopa pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics are briefly discussed. Levodopa shows particular pharmacokinetics including an extensive presystemic metabolism, overcome by the combined use of extracerebral inhibitors of the enzyme L-amino acid 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 intestinal absorption and delivery to the brain, and the clinical effect include standardization of levodopa dosing with respect to meal times and a controlled dietary protein intake. Levodopa plasma half-life is very short, resulting in marked plasma drug concentration fluctuations which are matched, as the disease progresses, to swings in the therapeutic response ("wearing-off" phenomena). "Wearing-off"phenomena can also be associated, at the more advanced disease stages, with a "negative", both parkinsonism- exacerbating and dyskinetic effect of levodopa at low, subtherapeutic plasma concentrations. Dyskinesias may also be 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 the levodopa concentration-effect relationship may prove useful to disclose the underlying mechanism and in planning the correct management. Clinically practical strategies to optimise levodopa pharmacokinetics, and possibly its therapeutic response, include liquid drug solutions, controlled release formulations and the use of inhibitors of levodopa metabolism. Unfortunately, these attempts have proved so far only partly successful, due to the complex alterations in cerebral levodopa kinetics which accompany the progressive degeneration of the nigrostriatal dopaminergic system in PD patients.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Neurology
Issue numberSUPPL. 2
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010


  • Levodopa
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Pharmacodynamics
  • Pharmacokinetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology


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