To clarify the way in which the clinical response to levodopa changes with the progression of Parkinson's disease, a longitudinal study was performed to quantify motor response characteristics to single doses of levodopa by mouth over three years in 23 patients with fluctuating motor function. A significant increase in motor disability in "on" (time of peak motor improvement) and "off" (before levodopa dose) phases occurred and "on" phase dyskinesia increased by 24%, though the amplitude of motor response was conserved. There was no evidence of progressive loss of response of certain motor deficits affecting axial muscles and gait. The mean duration of motor response decreased by 17%. Both shortening of response duration and increase in "off" phase disability contribute to the development of motor fluctuations. A short response time to the levodopa test dose was not an invariable finding in patients with severe fluctuations, whereas all had large response amplitudes and high "off" phase disability scores. Patients who have developed motor fluctuations may continue to respond to dopaminergic treatment until late in the disease course, despite the unstable nature of their responses.
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