OBJECTIVES--To evaluate the contribution of postsynaptic changes to motor fluctuations, three groups of parkinsonian patients with differing responses to treatment were acutely challenged with two dopaminergic drugs-apomorphine and levodopa-having different mechanisms of action. METHODS--Forty two patients with Parkinson's disease (14 untreated, eight with a stable response to levodopa, and 20 with levodopa induced motor fluctuations) were challenged on two consecutive days with apomorphine and levodopa. The latency, duration, and magnitude of motor response was measured. RESULTS--A progressive shortening of mean latency after levodopa challenge was found passing from the untreated to the stable and fluctuating groups; the difference between untreated and fluctuating patients was statistically significant (P < 0.01). Response duration after levodopa challenge was similar in untreated and stable patients, whereas it showed a significant shortening in patients with motor fluctuations (P < 0.05 v both untreated and stable patients). When subcutaneous apomorphine was given, untreated patients had a longer response duration than those who had developed motor fluctuations (P < 0.05). Although baseline disability was significantly greater in the fluctuating patients than in the untreated and stable patients, the severity of residual parkinsonian signs after both apomorphine and levodopa challenge was similar for all three groups; as a result, the degree of improvement in parkinsonian signs after dopaminergic stimulation was substantially greater in more advanced than in early cases. Linear regression analysis also indicated that latency and duration after apomorphine challenge did not significantly correlate with those after levodopa challenge, whereas magnitude of response to apomorphine showed a strong positive correlation with that after levodopa challenge (r = 0.9, P < 0.001). CONCLUSION--The progressive shortening of motor response after both apomorphine and levodopa suggests that pharmacodynamic factors play an important part in determining the duration of motor response and argue against altered central pharmacokinetics of levodopa being principally responsible for the on-off effect. The widening response amplitude and increasing off phase disability occurring during disease progression are also critical factors in determining the appearance of motor fluctuations.
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