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To develop a chemical exchange saturation transfer (CEST) scheme sensitive to hydroxyl protons at 3 T. Clinical imaging of hydroxyl moieties can have an impact on osteoarthritis, neuropsychiatric disorders, and cancer.Theory: By varying saturation amplitude linearly with frequency offset, the direct water saturation component of the Z-spectrum is flattened and can be subtracted to produce a magnetization transfer ratio difference spectrum (MTRdiff) that isolates solute resonances. Variable saturation power allows for near optimization of hydroxyl and amine/amide moieties in one Z-spectrum.Phantom studies were used to test vCEST performance in two environments: (1) aqueous single-solute (glycogen, glucose); (2) aqueous multiple solute (glycogen with bovine serum albumin). In vivo vCEST imaging of glycosaminoglycan content in patellar-femoral cartilage was performed in a subject with history of cartilage transplant.In solutions with overlapping resonances, vCEST resolves separate hydroxyl and amine/amide peaks. CEST hydroxyl signal in cartilage is negligible, but with vCEST, hydroxyl signal ranged from 2 to 5% ppm and showed distinct contrast between lesions and normal appearing cartilage.Introduced a variable saturation amplitude CEST (vCEST) scheme to improve sensitivity to exchangeable hydroxyl moieties at 3 T resulting in detection of hydroxyl in the presence of multiple solutes with overlapping resonances. Magn Reson Med 76:826–837, 2016. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.