Low Arginine Vasopressin Levels in Newborns Linked to Later ASD Diagnosis
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that can cause social, communicative, and behavioral challenges in impacted individuals. Because it is characterized primarily by behavioral differences and social learning deficits, it can be subjective and difficult to diagnose, and the scientific community has not come to a consensus on biological indicators that can be used to diagnose ASD. As a result, there have been many misdiagnoses and many individuals do not receive the proper care and treatment that they need, including many that are diagnosed later in life when behavioral differences present themselves (the average age in the United States to be diagnosed with autism is over 4 years old), by which time these individuals have not been put on the right care and learning trajectory.
In this study, the researchers investigated the correlation between arginine vasopressin (AVP) concentrations in archived cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of newborns (0 to 3 months old) and ASD diagnoses. Significantly lower AVP concentrations were found in the CSFs of individuals with ASD than those of control individuals, and lower AVP levels in individuals with ASD were linked to more severe symptoms. These results are corroborated by research in other mammals, including voles and mice, that AVP regulates prosocial behavior, especially in males. The findings of this study indicate the possibility of using neonatal AVP concentrations in CSF as a biochemical marker that can be used to diagnose ASD at a very young age, even before behavioral symptoms are presented in children, allowing those individuals to be monitored and access the treatment and care they need earlier.
To further investigate and understand the link between low AVP levels and ASD, a causative longitudinal experiment across a larger and more diverse sample size should be conducted, as the sample CSFs in this study were taken from babies who had some medical complications in the first place, and many were excluded from the study. Additionally, because autism can be difficult to diagnose, more objective symptoms should be delineated in order to verify the cases and diagnoses of the individuals in the study. Finally, AVP can be studied as a potential explanation of the gender bias of ASD (boys are approximately four times more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than girls), either through the pathway in which AVP regulates prosocial behavior or testosterone modulates AVP receptors.
Oztan, O., J. P. Garner, J. N. Constantino, K. J. Parker. “Neonatal CSF vasopressin concentration predicts later medical record diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2020, vol. 117(19), pp. 10609-10613.