Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA)

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What is the goal of MESA?

The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) is an NHLBI-sponsored medical research study that looks at early, or subclinical, atherosclerosis in diverse participants. Atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque builds up inside the arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to the heart and other parts of the body. Over time, plaque hardens and narrows these arteries, limiting the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the organs and other parts of the body. Atherosclerosis can lead to serious problems, including heart attack, stroke, or even death. The goal of MESA is to identify factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease that occurs with or without obvious symptoms.


  • The study started in 1999 and is still monitoring the health of over 6,800 participants.
  • Participants are from six U.S. communities and include diverse race and ethnic groups.
  • MESA can help us understand how heart disease can have different symptoms based on a patient’s sex or racial or ethnic group.
  • More than 2,300 papers have been published in well-known medical journals using MESA data.
  • More than 235 related studies have been conducted as companion studies to MESA.

What are the key findings of MESA?

In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death for African-Americans, Latinos, and Caucasians. Studies like MESA can help find reasons why these groups may be at higher risk. Risk factors may be from social conditions, the environment, neighborhoods, genetics, and lifestyle. Thus far, MESA has generated findings in a wide range of research areas, including heart disease, diabetes, diet and nutrition, and stroke. MESA also has developed an online tool and smartphone app to help consumers assess risk factors and estimate an individual’s risk of coronary heart disease.

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- Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA)

Researchers also have made discoveries related to the environment and the air. Leveraging NHLBI’s MESA research, the University of Washington and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis Air Pollution Study (MESA Air), the first prospective epidemiology U.S. research study to examine a group of people over a 10-year period and measure directly how long-term exposure to air pollution contributes to the development of heart disease. MESA Air found that people living near heavily trafficked roadways may be at higher risk of heart disease due to fine particles in the air that reduce levels of high-density lipoprotein, also known as good cholesterol.

More than 2,200 papers have been published in well-known medical journals using MESA data. MESA publications add to what scientists know about disease, how doctors treat their patients, and even affects some of the policies used in communities.

The NHLBI continues to leverage MESA data and specimens to spur new scientific discovery. NHLBI’s TOPMed (Trans-Omics for Precision Medicine) program is utilizing MESA data by collecting RNA expression, DNA methylation, and metabolite profiles from individuals who participated in MESA. TOPMed studies the ways genetic information, along with information about health status, lifestyle, and the environment, can be used to predict the best ways to prevent and treat heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders.

The NHLBI encourages researchers to utilize the valuable resources that have been collected since the study began in 1999. Learn more about utilizing MESA resources through NHLBI’s Biologic Specimen and Data Repositories Information Coordinating Center (BioLINCC); and through the NIH Database of Genotypes and Phenotypes (dbGaP).

How is MESA conducted?

MESA researchers study a diverse, population-based sample of more than 6,800 men and women who had no signs of cardiovascular disease at enrollment and were aged 45 to 84. Patients were enrolled from six field centers across the United States over a two-year period. Participants had an initial exam in the first two years, from July 2000 to July 2002. They then had four exams, one every 17 to 20 months through January 2012. The sixth exam was conducted between 2016 and 2018 and a seventh exam from 2022 to 2024. These repeat exams allow researchers to study and detect changes in the arteries over the course of the study. MESA participants continue to be contacted annually for follow-up assessments.