We present MEMLET (MATLAB-enabled maximum-likelihood estimation tool), a simple-to-use and powerful program for utilizing maximum-likelihood estimation (MLE) for parameter estimation from data produced by single-molecule and other biophysical experiments. The program is written in MATLAB and includes a graphical user interface, making it simple to integrate into the existing workflows of many users without requiring programming knowledge. We give a comparison of MLE and other fitting techniques (e.g., histograms and cumulative frequency distributions), showing how MLE often outperforms other fitting methods. The program includes a variety of features. 1) MEMLET fits probability density functions (PDFs) for many common distributions (exponential, multiexponential, Gaussian, etc.), as well as user-specified PDFs without the need for binning. 2) It can take into account experimental limits on the size of the shortest or longest detectable event (i.e., instrument “dead time”) when fitting to PDFs. The proper modification of the PDFs occurs automatically in the program and greatly increases the accuracy of fitting the rates and relative amplitudes in multicomponent exponential fits. 3) MEMLET offers model testing (i.e., single-exponential versus double-exponential) using the log-likelihood ratio technique, which shows whether additional fitting parameters are statistically justifiable. 4) Global fitting can be used to fit data sets from multiple experiments to a common model. 5) Confidence intervals can be determined via bootstrapping utilizing parallel computation to increase performance. Easy-to-follow tutorials show how these features can be used. This program packages all of these techniques into a simple-to-use and well-documented interface to increase the accessibility of MLE fitting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-282
Number of pages10
JournalBiophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 26 2016


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