New research suggests that medications targeting a hormone may lead to improved socialization and behavior in those with autism. Results from two studies on treatments related to the hormone vasopressin — one looking at adults on the spectrum and another looking at children — are showing promise.

For the children’s study, 30 kids ages 6 to 12 with autism were randomly assigned to take a vasopressin nasal spray or a placebo each day for four weeks. Each child’s autism symptoms were assessed using several measures before and after the trial. Parents and researchers observed greater increases in social abilities in those who took vasopressin, according to findings These children also performed better on lab tests designed to measure social capabilities and they displayed less anxiety.

The improvements were greatest among kids who had the highest levels of vasopressin before the study began, the researchers found. What’s more, in these youngsters, the treatment also appeared to diminish restricted and repetitive behaviors.

In a separate study involving 223 adult men with moderate to severe autism assessed a drug called balovaptan, which affects the brain’s response to vasopressin. The men were assigned to one of four groups, either receiving various doses of balovaptan or a placebo for 12 weeks.

The adult trial showed no meaningful gains when participants were assessed using the Social Responsiveness Scale, a common measure for social impairment in those with autism. However, the two groups that received higher doses of the drug showed gains on a second scale examining socialization, adaptive behavior and daily living skills compared to those who received the placebo Both drugs were well tolerated and had an acceptable safety profile.