Pramipexole is an orally active non-ergoline dopamine agonist with selective activity at dopamine receptors belonging to the D2 receptor subfamily (D2, D3, D4 receptor subtypes) and with preferential affinity for the D3 receptor subtype. It is approved as monotherapy in early Parkinson's disease and as adjunctive therapy to levodopa in patients with advanced disease experiencing motor effects because of diminished response to levodopa. The potential neuroprotective effects of pramipexole have been shown in animal and in vitro studies. Data from relatively long term (10- or 31-week) studies suggest that pramipexole monotherapy (0.375 to 6.0 mg/day) can improve activities of daily living and motor symptoms in patients with early Parkinson's disease. Pramipexole (0.375 to 4.5 mg/day for 31 or 36 weeks), as an adjunct to levodopa in advanced disease, improved activities of daily living and motor symptoms, reduced the duration and severity of 'off' periods and allowed a reduction in levodopa dosage. Mentation, behaviour and mood [Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) part I], and timed walking test were not significantly improved. The extent of disability improved according to the UPDRS parts II and III but, when assessed by secondary efficacy parameters, it is unclear whether disability or the severity of disease improved. No significant differences were observed in patients randomised to pramipexole or bromocriptine according to a secondary hypothesis in a prospective study in which both drugs were better than placebo. Some quality-of-life measures improved with active treatment relative to placebo. Further studies comparing pramipexole with other dopamine agonists and levodopa in patients with early and advanced Parkinson's disease would be useful. In pramipexole recipients with early disease, the most commonly experienced adverse events were nausea, dizziness, somnolence, insomnia, constipation, asthenia and hallucinations. The most commonly reported adverse events in pramipexole recipients with advanced disease were orthostatic hypotension, dyskinesias, extrapyramidal syndrome (defined as a worsening of the Parkinson's disease), dizziness, hallucinations, accidental injury, dream abnormalities, confusion, constipation, asthenia, somnolence, dystonia, gait abnormality, hypertonia, dry mouth, amnesia and urinary frequency. The incidence of some adverse events did not greatly differ between pramipexole and placebo recipients.
Conclusions: Pramipexole is effective as adjunctive therapy to levodopa in patients with advanced Parkinson's disease. However, the potential beneficial effects of pramipexole on disease progression need to be confirmed in clinical studies. The efficacy of pramipexole monotherapy in patients with early disease has also been demonstrated, although the use of dopamine agonists in early Parkinson's disease remains controversial.