Skip to Main Content

Life Sciences

A guide serving Life Sciences, Biology, Neuroscience and Cognitive Science, Cell Biology & Molecular Genetics

Since many of you will be going into medical fields or medical research, we are going to explore some helpful library resources and a controlled vocabulary that will make you better practitioners and researchers. If you have any questions about the resources you find here, feel free to contact me!

Medical Subject Headings, or MeSH Terms, are a controlled vocabulary created by the National Library of Medicine (NLM). This vocabulary ensures that all research pertaining to particular topics regardless of varying terminology can be discovered and used. These terms were designed to work hand-in-hand with PubMed and PubMed Central, but have since been incorporated into other programs and databases. 

The National Center for Biotechnology Information, or NCBI, maintains a MeSH Database that is easy to use. Simply type in a search term, such as "Heart Attack", into the search bar, and click "Search". This pulls up a new page with the authority subject; in our example, the page returned is entitled "Myocardial Infarction". All other terms that mean "heart attack" are included in the entry page. See the screencaps below.

Every article in the PubMed Database is "mapped" to these subject terms. That means that each article is tagged with specific MeSH keywords. When you search for a MeSH term, your results will include all articles tagged with that MeSH term.

Image of myocardial infarction entry in MeSH Databbase

The MeSH Database also shows you terms that can broaden or narrow your search. In the "See Also" section of your search results, you can see the hierarchy of medical terms that NCBI uses.

An image of the vocab hierarchy NCBI uses for MeSH terms

Finally, you can use the Search Builder feature in the MeSH database to start a search strategy for your research topic. In our example, we can choose to look up genetic indicators of myocardial infarction by clicking the "genetics" box and adding to the search builder. You can then use the pre-made search string to search PubMed.


An image of the search builder function in the MeSH Database

PubMed is a database run by the National Library of Medicine (part of NIH). It includes millions of articles from the world's leading medical journals. Each article is tagged with MeSH keywords, making relevant articles easy to find with a simple search. 

There are two versions of PubMed. One version is free to the public and links to all Open Access full text articles. The other version, offered to you free of charge by the UMD Libraries, contains full text of all articles in the database. Some institutions do not have a subscription to the paid version.

For a complete Intro to PubMed, please see the short 6 minute video linked below!

Need an NCBI Account? Register here!