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Open Access Review

Maximum entropy spectral analysis for circadian rhythms: theory, history and practice

Harold B Dowse

Author Affiliations

Department of Mathematics and Statistics, School of Biology and Ecology, 5751 Murray Hall, University of Maine, Orono ME 04469, USA

Journal of Circadian Rhythms 2013, 11:6  doi:10.1186/1740-3391-11-6

Published: 11 July 2013


There is an array of numerical techniques available to estimate the period of circadian and other biological rhythms. Criteria for choosing a method include accuracy of period measurement, resolution of signal embedded in noise or of multiple periodicities, and sensitivity to the presence of weak rhythms and robustness in the presence of stochastic noise. Maximum Entropy Spectral Analysis (MESA) has proven itself excellent in all regards. The MESA algorithm fits an autoregressive model to the data and extracts the spectrum from its coefficients. Entropy in this context refers to “ignorance” of the data and since this is formally maximized, no unwarranted assumptions are made. Computationally, the coefficients are calculated efficiently by solution of the Yule-Walker equations in an iterative algorithm. MESA is compared here to other common techniques. It is normal to remove high frequency noise from time series using digital filters before analysis. The Butterworth filter is demonstrated here and a danger inherent in multiple filtering passes is discussed.