Gaussian markov random field priors for inverse problems

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In this paper, our focus is on the connections between the methods of (quadratic) regularization for inverse problems and Gaussian Markov random field (GMRF) priors for problems in spatial statistics. We begin with the most standard GMRFs defined on a uniform computational grid, which correspond to the oft-used discrete negative-Laplacian regularization matrix. Next, we present a class of GMRFs that allow for the formation of edges in reconstructed images, and then draw concrete connections between these GMRFs and numerical discretizations of more general diffusion operators. The bene- fit of the GMRF interpretation of quadratic regularization is that a GMRF is built-up from concrete statistical assumptions about the values of the unknown at each pixel given the values of its neighbors. Thus the regularization term corresponds to a concrete spatial statistical model for the unknown, encapsulated in the prior. Throughout our discussion, strong ties between specific GMRFs, numerical discretizations of diffusion operators, and corresponding regularization matrices, are established. We then show how such GMRF priors can be used for edge-preserving reconstruction of images, in both image deblurring and medical imaging test cases. Moreover, we demonstrate the effectiveness of GMRF priors for data arising from both Gaussian and Poisson noise models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)397-416
Number of pages20
JournalInverse Problems and Imaging
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2013


  • Bayesian inference
  • Gaussian markov random fields
  • Image reconstruction
  • Inverse problems
  • Numerical partial differential equations
  • Regularization


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