Randomized Delayed-Start Trial of Levodopa in Parkinson's Disease

N Engl J Med. 2019 Jan 24;380(4):315-324. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1809983.


Background: Levodopa is the main treatment for symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Determining whether levodopa also has a disease-modifying effect could provide guidance as to when in the course of the disease the treatment with this drug should be initiated.

Methods: In a multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled, delayed-start trial, we randomly assigned patients with early Parkinson's disease to receive levodopa (100 mg three times per day) in combination with carbidopa (25 mg three times per day) for 80 weeks (early-start group) or placebo for 40 weeks followed by levodopa in combination with carbidopa for 40 weeks (delayed-start group). The primary outcome was the between-group difference in the mean change from baseline to week 80 in the total score on the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS; scores range from 0 to 176, with higher scores signifying more severe disease). Secondary analyses included the progression of symptoms, as measured by the UPDRS score, between weeks 4 and 40 and the noninferiority of early initiation of treatment to delayed initiation between weeks 44 and 80, with a noninferiority margin of 0.055 points per week.

Results: A total of 445 patients were randomly assigned: 222 to the early-start group and 223 to the delayed-start group. The mean (±SD) UPDRS score at baseline was 28.1±11.4 points in the early-start group and 29.3±12.1 points in the delayed-start group. The change in UPDRS score from baseline to week 80 was -1.0±13.1 points and -2.0±13.0 points, respectively (difference, 1.0 point; 95% confidence interval [CI], -1.5 to 3.5; P=0.44); this finding of no significant between-group difference at week 80 implies that levodopa had no disease-modifying effect. Between weeks 4 and 40, the rate of progression of symptoms, as measured in UPDRS points per week, was 0.04±0.23 in the early-start group and 0.06±0.34 in the delayed-start group (difference, -0.02; 95% CI, -0.07 to 0.03). The corresponding rates between weeks 44 and 80 were 0.10±0.25 and 0.03±0.28 (difference, 0.07; two-sided 90% CI, 0.03 to 0.10); the difference in the rate of progression between weeks 44 and 80 did not meet the criterion for noninferiority of early receipt of levodopa to delayed receipt. The rates of dyskinesia and levodopa-related fluctuations in motor response did not differ significantly between the two groups.

Conclusions: Among patients with early Parkinson's disease who were evaluated over the course of 80 weeks, treatment with levodopa in combination with carbidopa had no disease-modifying effect. (Funded by the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development and others; LEAP Current Controlled Trials number, ISRCTN30518857 .).

Publication types

  • Equivalence Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Antiparkinson Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Antiparkinson Agents / adverse effects
  • Carbidopa / administration & dosage
  • Carbidopa / adverse effects
  • Disease Progression
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Levodopa / administration & dosage*
  • Levodopa / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parkinson Disease / drug therapy*
  • Time-to-Treatment


  • Antiparkinson Agents
  • Levodopa
  • Carbidopa

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN30518857