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    Original Investigation
    January 13, 2020

    Ambroxol for the Treatment of Patients With Parkinson Disease With and Without Glucocerebrosidase Gene Mutations: A Nonrandomized, Noncontrolled Trial

    Author Affiliations
    • 1Department of Clinical and Movement Neurosciences, University College London Institute of Neurology, London, United Kingdom
    • 2Institute of Translational and Stratified Medicine, University of Plymouth School of Medicine, Plymouth, United Kingdom
    • 3NIHR UCLH Clinical Research Facility, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, London, United Kingdom
    • 4Translational Mass Spectrometry Research Group, University College London Institute of Child Health, London, United Kingdom
    • 5Department of Medical Statistics, University of Plymouth School of Medicine, Plymouth, United Kingdom
    • 6Neurogenetics Unit, National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, UCLH NHS Foundation Trust, London, United Kingdom
    • 7Department of Neurodegenerative Disease, University College London Institute of Neurology, London, United Kingdom
    • 8UK Dementia Research Institute at University College London, London, United Kingdom
    • 9Clinical Neurochemistry Laboratory, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Molndal, Sweden
    • 10Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Psychiatry and Neurochemistry, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Molndal, Sweden
    JAMA Neurol. Published online January 13, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2019.4611
    Key Points

    Question  Does ambroxol cross the blood-brain barrier, and what are the biochemical changes associated with ambroxol therapy in patients with Parkinson disease with and without glucocerebrosidase gene mutations?

    Findings  In this open-label clinical trial of 17 patients with Parkinson disease, ambroxol crossed the blood-brain barrier and bound to the β-glucocerebrosidase enzyme, and it increased β-glucocerebrosidase enzyme protein levels and cerebrospinal fluid α-synuclein levels in patients both with and without glucocerebrosidase gene mutations.

    Meaning  Ambroxol therapy has potential for study as a neuroprotective compound for the treatment of patients with Parkinson disease both with and without glucocerebrosidase gene mutations.


    Importance  Mutations of the glucocerebrosidase gene, GBA1 (OMIM 606463), are the most important risk factor for Parkinson disease (PD). In vitro and in vivo studies have reported that ambroxol increases β-glucocerebrosidase (GCase) enzyme activity and reduces α-synuclein levels. These observations support a potential role for ambroxol therapy in modifying a relevant pathogenetic pathway in PD.

    Objective  To assess safety, tolerability, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) penetration, and target engagement of ambroxol therapy with GCase in patients with PD with and without GBA1 mutations.

    Interventions  An escalating dose of oral ambroxol to 1.26 g per day.

    Design, Setting, and Participants  This single-center open-label noncontrolled clinical trial was conducted between January 11, 2017, and April 25, 2018, at the Leonard Wolfson Experimental Neuroscience Centre, a dedicated clinical research facility and part of the University College London Queen Square Institute of Neurology in London, United Kingdom. Participants were recruited from established databases at the Royal Free London Hospital and National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London. Twenty-four patients with moderate PD were evaluated for eligibility, and 23 entered the study. Of those, 18 patients completed the study; 1 patient was excluded (failed lumbar puncture), and 4 patients withdrew (predominantly lumbar puncture–related complications). All data analyses were performed from November 1 to December 14, 2018.

    Main Outcomes and Measures  Primary outcomes at 186 days were the detection of ambroxol in the CSF and a change in CSF GCase activity.

    Results  Of the 18 participants (15 men [83.3%]; mean [SD] age, 60.2 [9.7] years) who completed the study, 17 (8 with GBA1 mutations and 9 without GBA1 mutations) were included in the primary analysis. Between days 0 and 186, a 156-ng/mL increase in the level of ambroxol in CSF (lower 95% confidence limit, 129 ng/mL; P < .001) was observed. The CSF GCase activity decreased by 19% (0.059 nmol/mL per hour; 95% CI, –0.115 to –0.002; P = .04). The ambroxol therapy was well tolerated, with no serious adverse events. An increase of 50 pg/mL (13%) in the CSF α-synuclein concentration (95% CI, 14-87; P = .01) and an increase of 88 ng/mol (35%) in the CSF GCase protein levels (95% CI, 40-137; P = .002) were observed. Mean (SD) scores on part 3 of the Movement Disorders Society Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale decreased (ie, improved) by 6.8 (7.1) points (95% CI, –10.4 to –3.1; P = .001). These changes were observed in patients with and without GBA1 mutations.

    Conclusions and Relevance  The study results suggest that ambroxol therapy was safe and well tolerated; CSF penetration and target engagement of ambroxol were achieved, and CSF α-synuclein levels were increased. Placebo-controlled clinical trials are needed to examine whether ambroxol therapy is associated with changes in the natural progression of PD.

    Trial Registration  ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT02941822; EudraCT identifier: 2015-002571-24