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Dopamine Augmented Rehabilitation in Stroke (DARS): a multicentre double-blind, randomised controlled trial of co-careldopa compared with placebo, in addition to routine NHS occupational and physical therapy, delivered early after stroke on functional recovery

Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation, No. 6.5

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Author Information
Southampton (UK): NIHR Journals Library; .


Co-careldopa in addition to routine occupational and physical therapy did not improve walking, physical functioning, mood or cognition following stroke.



Dopamine is a key modulator of striatal function and learning, and may improve motor recovery after stroke. Seven small trials of dopamine agonists after stroke have provided equivocal evidence of the clinical effectiveness of dopamine agonists in improving motor recovery.


Dopamine Augmented Rehabilitation in Stroke was a multicentre, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial with stroke patients randomised to receive 6 weeks of co-careldopa (Sinemet®, Merck Sharp & Dohme Ltd) or placebo in combination with occupational and physical rehabilitation.


The primary outcome measure was the proportion of patients walking independently at 8 weeks [Rivermead Mobility Index (RMI) score of ≥ 7 points and ‘yes’ to item 7 on the RMI]. Secondary outcome measures assessed physical functioning, pain, cognition, mood, fatigue and carer burden at 8 weeks, 6 months and 12 months.


Between May 2011 and March 2014, 593 patients (mean age 68.5 years) and 165 carers (mean age 59.7 years) were recruited from stroke rehabilitation units; 308 patients were randomised to co-careldopa and 285 to placebo at a median of 15 days following stroke onset. The study drug was to be taken 45–60 minutes before therapy, which included motor activities (mean 23.2 and 24.8 sessions in the co-careldopa and placebo groups, respectively). The mean number of investigational medicinal product doses taken was 20.6 in the co-careldopa group and 22.4 in the placebo group. Ability to walk independently was not improved at 8 weeks [40.6% (co-careldopa) vs. 44.6% (placebo); odds ratio 0.78, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.53 to 1.15], 6 months [51.6% (co-careldopa) vs. 53.3% (placebo)] or 12 months [51.6% (co-careldopa) vs. 56.8% (placebo)]. There were no significant differences for Barthel Index, Nottingham Extended Activities of Daily Living, ABILHAND Manual Ability Measure or Modified Rankin Scale, pain or fatigue at any time point. Montreal Cognitive Assessment scores did not significantly differ; the majority of participants had cognitive impairment at baseline, which improved during 12 months’ follow-up. No difference was observed in General Health Questionnaire 12-item version scores between groups at 8 weeks and 12 months but, at 6 months, those in the co-careldopa group reported significantly better general health [mean difference (MD) –1.33, 95% CI –2.57 to –0.10]. Mortality at 12 months was not significantly different. Carers in the placebo group reported significantly greater burden at 6 months (MD 5.05, 95% CI 0.10 to 10.01) and 12 months (MD 7.52, 95% CI 1.87 to 13.18).


Co-careldopa in addition to routine NHS occupational and physical therapy is not clinically effective or cost-effective in improving walking, physical functioning, mood or cognition following stroke. We recommend further research to develop imaging and clinical markers that would allow identification of promising drug therapies that would enhance motor therapy in improving walking ability and arm function. Further research is needed to compare strategies of giving drug therapy intermittently immediately prior to therapy sessions or as continuous background daily administration.


In total, 10.3% of patients were lost to follow-up at 8 weeks and < 10% of patients met the strict per-protocol definition. Despite this, the findings are robust and generalisable to patients with limited mobility in the first few weeks after stroke.

Trial registration:

Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN99643613.


This project was funded by the Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation programme, a Medical Research Council and National Institute for Health Research partnership.


About the Series

Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation
ISSN (Print): 2050-4365
ISSN (Electronic): 2050-4373

Article history

The research reported in this issue of the journal was funded by the EME programme as project number 08/43/61. The contractual start date was in January 2010. The final report began editorial review in November 2015 and was accepted for publication in February 2017. The authors have been wholly responsible for all data collection, analysis and interpretation, and for writing up their work. The EME editors and production house have tried to ensure the accuracy of the authors’ report and would like to thank the reviewers for their constructive comments on the final report document. However, they do not accept liability for damages or losses arising from material published in this report.

Declared competing interests of authors

Gary A Ford received personal fees from Lundbeck Ltd, Boehringer Ingelheim, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, and grants and personal fees from Athersys outside the submitted work. Alastair Cozens had equity in Skene Software Ltd and other financial activity outside the submitted work for SiLCK Clinical Solutions Ltd. David Meads is a member of the Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Elective and Emergency Specialist Care (EESC) Panel. Catherine M Sackley is a member of Health Services and Delivery Research researcher-led board. Amanda J Farrin is a member of the HTA Clinical Evaluation and Trials Board and the HTA Commissioning Strategy Group.

Last reviewed: November 2015; Accepted: February 2017.

In memoriam

Copyright © Queen’s Printer and Controller of HMSO 2019. This work was produced by Ford et al. under the terms of a commissioning contract issued by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. This issue may be freely reproduced for the purposes of private research and study and extracts (or indeed, the full report) may be included in professional journals provided that suitable acknowledgement is made and the reproduction is not associated with any form of advertising. Applications for commercial reproduction should be addressed to: NIHR Journals Library, National Institute for Health Research, Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre, Alpha House, University of Southampton Science Park, Southampton SO16 7NS, UK.
Bookshelf ID: NBK543424PMID: 31291073DOI: 10.3310/eme06050


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