Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)
The Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) thesaurus is a worldwide, hierarchically-organized, concept-based vocabulary for biomedical terms.
MeSH includes the vocabulary that appears in MEDLINE/PubMed, the NLM catalogue and other NLM databases. It is published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), revised annually and expanded to include new terms.
It is used, among other things, to catalogue book and media holdings, index databases and create search profiles.
MeSH is also available in a German version. To preserve the character of the thesaurus, the original English MeSH descriptors are translated one-to-one into their German equivalents, with a particular focus on the main headwords. Common German synonyms from German-speaking countries are then added to the main headwords to give German MeSH users a more authentic and localised experience.
The bilingual versions of German MeSH are available to download for free from ZB MED’s PUBLISSO Repository for Life Sciences (FRL), starting with version 25.0, which was released in 2020. The bilingual MeSH thesaurus appears once a year and is published in six different formats. Each format is provided as a ZIP file which contains the bilingual MeSH version as well as the terms and conditions of use and a readme file in German and English. The following formats are available:
- Database in CSV format:
This format is suitable for importing into relational database systems.
The XML version of MeSH is a large file that can only be meaningfully processed using XML-capable software.
This format is significantly larger than the XML file. It is suitable for importing into RDF and other graph-based databases. Internationalized Resource Identifiers (IRI) are used to ensure that the identifiers are semantic, machine-readable and FAIR. This format can be processed with software such as Protégé and is suitable for importing into terminology servers.
This format is significantly larger than the XML file. Internationalized Resource Identifiers (IRI) are used to ensure that the identifiers are semantic, machine-readable and FAIR. This file is similar to the RDF/XML format, but with a structure that is easier for humans to read.
This file is very large, with a similar size to that of the RDF/XML and Turtle formats. It can only be meaningfully processed using RDF/XML-capable software. An N-Triples(.nt) file is a line-based, text-only serialization format for RDF graphs. This format is also provided in an English-only version by the NLM.
This file is significantly larger than the XML. It is suitable for importing into NoSQL databases, preferably JSON-based. Internationalized Resource Identifiers (IRI) are used to ensure that the identifiers are semantic, machine-readable and FAIR. This file can be imported into a GraphDB or MongoDB, for example.
As well as being published on a yearly basis in the Repository for Life Sciences, the most recent year's versions of the RDF/XML, Turtle, N-Triples and JSON-LD files are also made available on a dedicated download page without a year number in the IRI; these files are updated to the latest version each year after the English-language MeSH has been published, usually in February. The download links on this page always point to the most recent version (unlike the download links in the FRL which refer to the MeSH versions for a specific year in each case).
Download terms and conditions
The copyright for the German translation of the MeSH terminology has been held by ZB MED – Information Center Life Sciences since the beginning of 2020. Use of the German MeSH terms is subject to the CC BY 4.0 license and the terms and conditions of use (in German).
The copyright for the English MeSH terms is held by the U. S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) in Bethesda, MD. Use of the English version is subject to the NLM’s terms and conditions of use.
The German MeSH at ZB MED
In spring 2020, ZB MED – the German counterpart of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) – officially took over responsibility for translating the Medical Subject Headings. Up until the end of 2018, this task had been handled by the German Institute for Medical Documentation and Information, which was incorporated into the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) in 2020.
To create the German translation of MeSH, ZB MED developed a translation tool and a multi-stage curation process. The first stage of the translation process is performed using the machine translation API of an external translation service (currently DeepL). This is followed by an independent, multi-stage curation process to ensure maximum quality.