It is known that in the early stages of osteoarthritis, the concentration of glycan proteins decreases in articular cartilage. This phenomenon is under active research to develop a means to characterize osteoarthritis accurately in the early stages of the disease, when still reversible. However, no method of quantification has yet shown clear success in this area. In this article, we propose a novel approach to detect glycan depletion using fast field-cycling NMR. This technique was previously reported to allow noninvasive measurement of protein concentration via the 14N quadrupolar relaxation in certain amide groups. We have demonstrated that the articular cartilage exhibits clear quadrupolar peaks that can be measured by a benchtop fast field-cycling NMR device and which changes significantly between normal and diseased tissues (P < 0.01). This signal is probably glycan specific. The method may have potential for early evaluation of osteoarthritis in patients on fast field-cycling-MRI scanners currently under evaluation in the authors' laboratory. Magn Reson Med, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.