Image quality analysis of nonlinear algorithms is challenging due to numerous dependencies on the imaging system, algorithmic parameters, object, and stimulus. In particular, traditional notions of linearity and local linearity are of limited utility when the system response is dependent on the stimulus itself. In this work, we analyze the performance of nonlinear systems using perturbation response - the difference between the mean output with and without a stimulus, and introduce a new metric to examine variation of the responses in individual images. We applied the analysis to four algorithms with different degrees of nonlinearity for a spherical stimulus of varying contrast. For model-based reconstruction methods [penalized-likelihood (PL) reconstruction with a quadratic penalty and a Huber penalty], perturbation response analysis reaffirmed known trends in terms of object- and location-dependence. For a CNN denoising network, the response exhibits highly nonlinear behavior as the contrast increases – from the stimulus completely disappearing, to appearing at the right contrast but smaller in size, to being fully admitted by the algorithm. Furthermore, the variation metric for PL reconstruction with a Huber penalty and the CNN network reveals high variation at the edge of the stimulus, i.e., perturbation response computed from the mean images is a smoothed version of individual responses due to “jitter” in edges. This behavior suggests that the mean response alone may not be representative of performance in individual images and image quality metrics traditionally defined based on the mean response may be inappropriate for certain nonlinear algorithms. This work demonstrates the potential utility of perturbation response and response variation in the analysis and optimization of nonlinear imaging algorithms.
Model-based reconstruction (MBR) algorithms in CT have demonstrated superior dose-image quality tradeoffs compared to traditional analytical methods. However, the nonlinear and data-dependent nature of these al- gorithms pose significant challenges for performance evaluation and parameter optimization. To address these challenges, this work presents an analysis framework for quantitative and predictive modeling of image proper- ties in general nonlinear MBR algorithms. We propose to characterize the reconstructed appearance of arbitrary stimuli by the generalized system response function that accounts for dependence on the imaging conditions, reconstruction parameters, object, and the stimulus itself (size, contrast, location). We estimate this nonlinear function using a multilayer perceptron neural network by providing input and output pairs that samples the range of imaging parameters of interest. The feasibility of this approach was demonstrated for predicting the appearance of a spiculated lesion reconstructed by a penalized-likelihood objective with a Huber penalty in a physical phantom as a function of its location and reconstruction parameters β and δ. The generalized system response functions predicted from the trained neural network show good agreement with those computed from mean reconstructions, proving the ability of the framework in mapping out the nonlinear function for combinations of imaging parameters not present in the training data. We demonstrated utility of the framework to achieve desirable (e.g., non-blocky) lesion appearance in arbitrary locations in the phantom without the need for performing actual reconstructions. The proposed prediction framework permits efficient and quantifiable performance evaluations to provide robust control and understanding of image properties for general classes of nonlinear MBR algorithms.