New study: Increasing autistic children’s levels of vasopressin, could help treat the social deficits common to autism

Vasopressin: hormone that regulates social behavior. One of two key hormones, with oxytocin known to regulate normal social functioning in mammals. Past studies on rodents have shown that disrupting its signaling pathway leads to social impairments



  • Published in PLOS ONE
  • Tested whether vasopressin concentrations in autistic children corresponded with their social functioning abilities
  • Stanford University’s School of Medicine 

Recruited 159 children

  • Groups: 1. Autistic 2. Not autistic but had autistic siblings 3. Not autistic or with autistic siblings
  • Used 3 standard psychiatric tools to gauge social and behavioural function in participants

1. Social responsiveness

2.  Ability to recognize others' emotions

3.  Ability to understand that others have values and belief systems different to one’s own (theory of mind)


  • Low levels of vasopressin in the blood of children with autism corresponded with a lower score for #3 (theory of mind)
  • the lower a patient’s blood vasopressin levels, the greater their observed social cognition impairments


Because hormone concentrations weren’t associated with abilities such as recognizing emotions, they couldn’t alone explain the vast spectrum of social impairments in autistic children. Hopeful the vasopressin pathway will be an effective therapeutic target. In autistic: brain may have a deficiency of vasopressin therefore vasopressin treatment may enhance social functioning. Currently no medications that effectively treat the social deficits in people with autism. Theory of Mind deficits create major barriers to communication and closeness. Typically present in people with autism spectrum disorders, Asperger’s, schizophrenia and ADHD