Mapping the biomedical sciences using Medical Subject Headings: a comparison between MeSH co-assignments and MeSH citation pairs




MeSH, citation, co-assignment, map of life sciences, Gephi


Objective: This study compares two maps of biomedical sciences using Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) term co-assignments versus MeSH terms of citing/cited articles and reveals similarities and differences between the two approaches.

Methods: MeSH terms assigned to 397,475 journal articles published in 2015, as well as their 4,632,992 cited references, were retrieved from Web of Science and MEDLINE databases, respectively, which formed over 7 million MeSH co-assignments and nearly 18 million direct citation pairs. We generated six network visualizations of biomedical science at three levels using Gephi software based on these MeSH co-assignments and citation pairs.

Results: The MeSH co-assignment map contained more nodes and edges, as MeSH co-assignments cover all medical topics discussed in articles. By contrast, the MeSH citation map contained fewer but larger nodes and wider edges, as citation links indicate connections to two similar medical topics.

Conclusion: These two types of maps emphasize different aspects of biomedical sciences, with MeSH co-assignment maps focusing on the relationship between topics in different categories and MeSH direct citation maps providing insights into relationships between topics in the same or similar category.

Author Biographies

Fei Shu, Hangzhou Dianzi University


Chinese Academy of Science and Education Evaluation

Junping Qiu, Hangzhou Dianzi University


Chinese Academy of Science and Education Evaluation

Vincent Larivière, Université de Montréal


École de bibliothéconomie et des sciences de l’information



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Original Investigation