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HELEN MAYBERG’S STRANGE BIRD: The Neurology of Depression
American Association for the Advancement of Science Member Spotlight
Nov. 17, 2017


Images of depression adorn the office of neurologist and AAAS Fellow Helen Mayberg.

Framed on the wall and floating on a white background are wispy red strokes, like the projecting ornamental feathers of a male bird of paradise in full courtship display. The image is art, but it’s also science. This strange, beautiful bird, seemingly untethered by gravity, is in reality a three-dimensional rendering—a map—of a neurological network inside the human brain. The red wisps are the network’s tendrils, its roads, a skull-obscured highway of electrical pulses and metabolic activity played out in gray and white matter. Just don’t let the beauty fool you.

The image’s weightless grace and intricate details hide a terrible burden: this is what clinical depression looks like as it blazes its path through the human brain. It’s also an insight into how Mayberg has learned to understand depression and how it rewires the brain. The neurology of depression is Mayberg’s longtime object of study and she knows it intimately, even aesthetically.

“I see them [brain networks] as three-dimensional objects,” Mayberg said. “When I look at the maps, I find there is beauty in their shape and their direction.”

This particular map results from a collaboration with two mathematicians, but there are others.

Read the full story at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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