Objective: To evaluate the efficacy of dichloroacetate (DCA) in the treatment of mitochondrial myopathy, encephalopathy, lactic acidosis and stroke-like episodes (MELAS).
Background: High levels of ventricular lactate, the brain spectroscopic signature of MELAS, correlate with more severe neurologic impairment. The authors hypothesized that chronic cerebral lactic acidosis exacerbates neuronal injury in MELAS and therefore, investigated DCA, a potent lactate-lowering agent, as potential treatment for MELAS.
Methods: The authors conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized, 3-year cross-over trial of DCA (25 mg/kg/day) in 30 patients (aged 10 to 60 years) with MELAS and the A3243G mutation. Primary outcome measure was a Global Assessment of Treatment Efficacy (GATE) score based on a health-related event inventory, and on neurologic, neuropsychological, and daily living functioning. Biologic outcome measures included venous, CSF, and 1H MRSI-estimated brain lactate. Blood tests and nerve conduction studies were performed to monitor safety.
Results: During the initial 24-month treatment period, 15 of 15 patients randomized to DCA were taken off study medication, compared to 4 of 15 patients randomized to placebo. Study medication was discontinued in 17 of 19 patients because of onset or worsening of peripheral neuropathy. The clinical trial was terminated early because of peripheral nerve toxicity. The mean GATE score was not significantly different between treatment arms.
Conclusion: DCA at 25 mg/kg/day is associated with peripheral nerve toxicity resulting in a high rate of medication discontinuation and early study termination. Under these experimental conditions, the authors were unable to detect any beneficial effect. The findings show that DCA-associated neuropathy overshadows the assessment of any potential benefit in MELAS.