Stanford University researchers have identified a link between vasopressin hormone and autism in children, leading the way for development of a diagnostic test.

In collaboration with the University of California-Davis, the team found that low vasopressin levels in the cerebrospinal fluid are associated with less sociability in monkeys, as well as people, meaning that the hormone can be a potential biomarker for the disorder.

While early behavioural treatment is considered beneficial for the disorder, its diagnosis is said to be a slow and complicated process. Researchers believe that a biological test with a specific lab measurement can allow rapid diagnosis.

Stanford University psychiatry and behavioral sciences associate professor Karen Parker said: “Since autism affects the brain, it’s really hard to access the biology of the condition to know what might be altered.

“Right now, the diagnosis is based on parents’ reports of their children’s symptoms, and on clinicians observing children in the clinic.”

“Since autism affects the brain, it’s really hard to access the biology of the condition to know what might be altered.”

During the study, researchers compared the blood and cerebrospinal fluid levels of possible biomarkers in rhesus monkeys with naturally low sociability and those having high sociability on various biological parameters.

They observed that blood vasopressin levels did not vary between the two groups but the levels in cerebrospinal fluid were lower in the less social arm.

Similarly, it was found that boys with autism had low vasopressin levels than age-matched children without the condition.

Parker added: “We don’t know if we see really low cerebrospinal fluid vasopressin before you see behavioural symptoms of autism. Ideally, it would be a risk marker, but we haven’t studied that yet.”

To validate the results, the team plans to study a larger group of monkeys and intend to investigate whether low vasopressin could be identified before the appearance of impaired social ability symptoms.