Maximum likelihood estimation of molecular motor kinetics from staircase dwell-time sequences

Biophys J. 2006 Aug 15;91(4):1156-68. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.105.079541. Epub 2006 May 5.


Molecular motors, such as kinesin, myosin, or dynein, convert chemical energy into mechanical energy by hydrolyzing ATP. The mechanical energy is used for moving in discrete steps along the cytoskeleton and carrying a molecular load. High resolution single molecule recordings of motor steps appear as a stochastic sequence of dwells, resembling a staircase. Staircase data can also be obtained from other molecular machines such as F1 -ATPase, RNA polymerase, or topoisomerase. We developed a maximum likelihood algorithm that estimates the rate constants between different conformational states of the protein, including motor steps. We model the motor with a periodic Markov model that reflects the repetitive chemistry of the motor step. We estimated the kinetics from the idealized dwell-sequence by numerical maximization of the likelihood function for discrete-time Markov models. This approach eliminates the need for missed event correction. The algorithm can fit kinetic models of arbitrary complexity, such as uniform or alternating step chemistry, reversible or irreversible kinetics, ATP concentration and mechanical force-dependent rates, etc. The method allows global fitting across stationary and nonstationary experimental conditions, and user-defined a priori constraints on rate constants. The algorithm was tested with simulated data, and implemented in the free QuB software.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / chemistry*
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Computer Simulation
  • Energy Transfer / physiology
  • Kinetics
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Chemical*
  • Models, Statistical
  • Molecular Motor Proteins / chemistry*
  • Molecular Motor Proteins / physiology
  • Motion
  • Movement / physiology
  • Myosin Type V / chemistry*
  • Myosin Type V / metabolism
  • Proton-Translocating ATPases / chemistry*
  • Proton-Translocating ATPases / metabolism


  • Molecular Motor Proteins
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Myosin Type V
  • Proton-Translocating ATPases