The physical factors that govern 2D and 3D imaging performance may be understood from quantitative analysis of the spatial-frequency-dependent signal and noise transfer characteristics [e.g., modulation transfer function (MTF), noise-power spectrum (NPS), detective quantum efficiency (DQE), and noise-equivalent quanta (NEQ)] along with a task-based assessment of performance (e.g., detectability index). This paper advances a theoretical framework based on cascaded systems analysis for calculation of such metrics in cone-beam CT (CBCT). The model considers the 2D projection NPS propagated through a series of reconstruction stages to yield the 3D NPS and allows quantitative investigation of tradeoffs in image quality associated with acquisition and reconstruction techniques. While the mathematical process of 3D image reconstruction is deterministic, it is shown that the process is irreversible, the associated reconstruction parameters significantly affect the 3D DQE and NEQ, and system optimization should consider the full 3D imaging chain. Factors considered in the cascade include: system geometry; number of projection views; logarithmic scaling; ramp, apodization, and interpolation filters; 3D back-projection; and 3D sampling (noise aliasing). The model is validated in comparison to experiment across a broad range of dose, reconstruction filters, and voxel sizes, and the effects of 3D noise correlation on detectability are explored. The work presents a model for the 3D NPS, DQE, and NEQ of CBCT that reduces to conventional descriptions of axial CT as a special case and provides a fairly general framework that can be applied to the design and optimization of CBCT systems for various applications
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