Digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) is a three-dimensional (3D) x-ray imaging modality that reconstructs image slices parallel to the detector plane. Image acquisition is performed using a limited angular range (less than ) and a limited number of projection views (less than 50 views). Due to incomplete data sampling, image artifacts are unavoidable in DBT. In this preliminary study, the image artifacts in DBT were investigated systematically using a linear system approximation. A cascaded linear system model of DBT was developed to calculate the 3D presampling modulation transfer function (MTF) with different image acquisition geometries and reconstruction filters using a filtered backprojection (FBP) algorithm. A thin, slanted tungsten (W) wire was used to measure the presampling MTF of the DBT system in the cross-sectional plane defined by the thickness and tube travel directions. The measurement was in excellent agreement with the calculation using the model. A small steel bead was used to calculate the artifact spread function (ASF) of the DBT system. The ASF was correlated with the convolution of the two-dimensional (2D) point spread function (PSF) of the system and the object function of the bead. The results showed that the cascaded linear system model can be used to predict the magnitude of image artifacts of small, high-contrast objects with different image acquisition geometry and reconstruction filters.