Noise-resolution tradeoffs in x-ray CT imaging: A comparison of penalized alternating minimization and filtered backprojection algorithms

Joshua D. Evans, David G. Politte, Bruce R. Whiting, Joseph A. O'Sullivan, Jeffrey F. Williamson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Purpose: In comparison with conventional filtered backprojection (FBP) algorithms for x-ray computed tomography (CT) image reconstruction, statistical algorithms directly incorporate the random nature of the data and do not assume CT data are linear, noiseless functions of the attenuation line integral. Thus, it has been hypothesized that statistical image reconstruction may support a more favorable tradeoff than FBP between image noise and spatial resolution in dose-limited applications. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the noise-resolution tradeoff for the alternating minimization (AM) algorithm regularized using a nonquadratic penalty function. Methods: Idealized monoenergetic CT projection data with Poisson noise were simulated for two phantoms with inserts of varying contrast (7%-238%) and distance from the field-of-view (FOV) center (2-6.5 cm). Images were reconstructed for the simulated projection data by the FBP algorithm and two penalty function parameter values of the penalized AM algorithm. Each algorithm was run with a range of smoothing strengths to allow quantification of the noise-resolution tradeoff curve. Image noise is quantified as the standard deviation in the water background around each contrast insert. Modulation transfer functions (MTFs) were calculated from six-parameter model fits to oversampled edge-spread functions defined by the circular contrast-insert edges as a metric of local resolution. The integral of the MTF up to 0.5 lp/mm was adopted as a single-parameter measure of local spatial resolution. Results: The penalized AM algorithm noise-resolution tradeoff curve was always more favorable than that of the FBP algorithm. While resolution and noise are found to vary as a function of distance from the FOV center differently for the two algorithms, the ratio of noises when matching the resolution metric is relatively uniform over the image. The ratio of AM-to-FBP image variances, a predictor of dose-reduction potential, was strongly dependent on the shape of the AM's nonquadratic penalty function and was also strongly influenced by the contrast of the insert for which resolution is quantified. Dose-reduction potential, reported here as the fraction (%) of FBP dose necessary for AM to reconstruct an image with comparable noise and resolution, for one penalty parameter value of the AM algorithm was found to vary from 70% to 50% for low-contrast and high-contrast structures, respectively, and from 70% to 10% for the second AM penalty parameter value. However, the second penalty, AM-700, was found to suffer from poor low-contrast resolution when matching the high-contrast resolution metric with FBP. Conclusions: The results of this simulation study imply that penalized AM has the potential to reconstruct images with similar noise and resolution using a fraction (10%-70%) of the FBP dose. However, this dose-reduction potential depends strongly on the AM penalty parameter and the contrast magnitude of the structures of interest. In addition, the authors' results imply that the advantage of AM can be maximized by optimizing the nonquadratic penalty function to the specific imaging task of interest. Future work will extend the methods used here to quantify noise and resolution in images reconstructed from real CT data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1444-1458
Number of pages15
JournalMedical physics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2011


  • alternating minimization
  • computed tomography
  • noise
  • nonquadratic regularization
  • resolution


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