Using microdialysis, levels of metabolites in the extracellular fluid of the cerebral cortex were monitored during neurovascular surgery (9 aneurysm and 5 extra-intracranial bypass operations). Our aim was to use microdialysis to detect any local ischemia which might be caused by brain retraction or temporary clipping. Parameters were therefore quantified whose levels in the dialysate are known to be influenced by ischemia (on-line pH, ascorbic acid, uric acid, glutathione, cysteine, glucose, lactate, glucose:lactate ratio). In the aneurysm series, on-line pH fell after introduction of the retractor, and in the majority of cases the other parameters also showed changes in accordance with ischemic conditions in the region of the probe. These changes disappeared at the end of retraction, or sometimes even before. During the bypass operations, there were no marked changes in on-line pH or in any of the measured parameters. However, in some of these patients values for the glucose:lactate ratio, ascorbic acid and uric acid lay outside the suggested basal levels for minimally disturbed cortex, indicating possible changes in metabolism caused by inadequate perfusion (carotid artery occlusion). We conclude that microdialysis is a sensitive method of detecting intraoperative changes in cerebral metabolism.