Scientists at University of Iowa have developed and tested a new non-invasive method to detect pH changes in living brain cells.

According to the researchers, brain’s acidity levels can show if the brain is functioning normally or not.

"Our study tells us, first, we have a technique that we believe can measure pH changes in the brain, and second, this MRI-based technique suggests that pH changes do occur with brain function," Vincent Magnotta said.

Researchers also found that pH levels dropped in certain parts of brain when the volunteers were made to watch a flashing checkerboard, confirming that pH changes do occur, when there are visual inputs, in localized areas of the brain too.

"The results support our original idea that brain activity can change local pH in human brains during normal activity, meaning that pH change in conjunction with the pH-sensitive receptors could be part of a signaling system that affects brain activity and cognitive function," Dr. John Wemmie said.

Regulating pH is important in the body, changes in which can lead to impact on vital organs in the body

"We are interested in the idea that pH might be changing in the functional brain because we've been hot on the trail of receptors that are activated by low pH. The presence of these receptors implies the possibility that low pH might be playing a signaling role in normal brain function,” said Wemmie.

"What we show is our method of detecting brain activity probably depends on pH changes and, more than that, it is distinct from the signal that fMRI measures. This gives us another tool to study brain activity,” Wemmie said.

During a panic attack, people are reported to hyperventilate leading to a lower level of carbon dioxide in the body. Research says that panic attacks are biological in nature and these factors can be hereditary.

The study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry says that even in people who resort to hyperventilation there was no alteration in pH levels from comparison levels.

"Brain activity is likely different in people with brain disorders, such as bipolar or depression and that might be reflected in this measure, and perhaps most important, at the end of the day; could this signal be abnormal or perturbed in human psychiatric disease? And if so, it might be a target for manipulation and treatment?" Wemmie said.