L-DOPA vs. Placebo for Depression and Psychomotor Slowing in Older Adults

  • End date
    Nov 30, 2022
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    New York State Psychiatric Institute
Updated on 30 April 2021
depressive disorder
depressive symptoms
depressed mood
major depressive disorder
dysthymic disorder


Individuals with Late Life Depression (LLD) often have cognitive problems, particularly problems with memory, attention, and problem solving, all of which contribute to antidepressant non-response. Our group and others have shown that decreased thinking speed is the central cause of functional problems in patients with LLD. Similarly, decreased walking speed is associated with depression and carries additional risk for falls, hospitalization, and death. Available evidence suggests that declining functionality in the brain's dopamine system contributes to age-related cognitive and motor slowing. The central hypothesis of this study is that by enhancing dopamine functioning in the brain and improving cognitive and motor slowing, administration of carbidopa/levodopa (L-DOPA) will improve depressive symptoms in older adults.


N=90 adults of which 30 participants will undergo scanning procedures, aged 60 and older with (1) a DSM 5 depressive disorder, (2) significant depressive symptoms, and (3) decreased thinking or walking speed will receive 8 weeks of treatment with L-DOPA up to 450mg. We will test whether L-DOPA increases brain dopamine release using neuroimaging and whether it speeds up thinking and walking speed. Data collected in the proposed studies may help identify a new treatment for LLD, which could have large public health ramifications given the prevalence, frequent treatment resistance, and chronicity characteristic of LLD. This project also will elucidate the neurobiology of slowing at molecular, structural, and functional levels of analysis, increasing our understanding of the interplay between these aging-associated processes and the pathophysiologic changes underlying late life neuropsychiatric disorders. Exploring patient characteristics that predict response to L-DOPA may provide useful information to guide differential therapeutics and develop personalized medicine for LLD.

Condition Major depression, Endogenous depression, Depression, Dysthymic Disorder, Depression (Major/Severe), Depression (Adolescent), Depression (Pediatric), Depression (Adult and Geriatric), Depression (Treatment-Resistant), Depressed, depressive disorder, major depressive disorder, major depressive disorders, dysthymia, depressed mood, miserable, depressive disorders
Treatment L-Dopa, Placebo Oral Tablet
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT03761030
SponsorNew York State Psychiatric Institute
Last Modified on30 April 2021


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

Aged 60 years and older
DSM 5 non-psychotic Major Depressive Disorder, Dysthymia, or Depression Not Otherwise Specified
Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HRSD) > 15
Decreased processing speed (defined as performance > 0.5SD below age-adjusted norms on Digit Symbol Substitution Test or Trail Making Test Part A) OR decreased gait speed (defined as average walking speed over 15' course < 1m/s)
Willing to and capable of providing informed consent and complying with study procedures
Alternative standard treatments for MDD, Dysthymia, or Depression NOS (e.g., antidepressant medication or psychotherapy) have been discussed and the individual agrees to be involved in an experimental treatment

Exclusion Criteria

Diagnosis of substance abuse or dependence (excluding Tobacco Use Disorder) within the past 12 months
History of or current psychosis, psychotic disorder, mania, or bipolar disorder
Diagnosis of probable Alzheimer's Disease, Vascular Dementia, or Parkinson's Disease (PD)
Mini Mental Status Exam (MMSE) < 25
HRSD 28; HRSD suicide item > 2 or the presence of significant suicide risk as judged by clinician or Clinical Global Impressions (CGI)-Severity score of 7 at baseline
Current or recent (within the past 4 weeks) treatment with antidepressants, antipsychotics, dopaminergic agents, or mood stabilizers
History of allergy, hypersensitivity reaction, or severe intolerance to L-DOPA
Acute, severe, or unstable medical or neurological illness
Mobility limiting osteoarthritis of any lower extremity joints, symptomatic lumbar spine disease, mobility limiting history of joint replacement surgery, or history of spine surgery
\. Having contraindication to MRI scanning (such as metal in body) or unable
to tolerate the scanning procedures
\. History of significant radioactivity exposure (nuclear medicine studies
or occupational exposure)
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