The aim of this study was to establish if patients with hemodynamically relevant or irrelevant stenoses of the extracranial internal carotid artery have different intracranial arterial oxygen saturation as measured by transcranial pulse oximetry using near infrared spectroscopy. Patients with unilateral stenosis 70% according to North American Symptomatic Carotid Endarterectomy Trial (NASCET) were included. Hemodynamic relevance was assessed using ultrasound criteria. Transcranial spectroscopy recordings were taken before and after surgical or interventional treatment of the stenosis. Optodes were placed bilaterally on the intact frontoparietal aspect of the skull. Oxygen saturation and diversion angle alpha from the hemoglobin plane were measured. There were no significant differences regarding arterial oxygen saturation between the two groups. Oxygen saturation ranged from 0.910 ± 0.08 to 0.957 ± 0.028 in the subgroups (all values asmean± S.E.). These values are consistent with previous studies and theoretical values. In smokers we found a significantly shifted diversion angle from the hemoglobin plane to the negative side. This indicates the presence of an absorber other than oxy- and desoxyhemoglobin in the optical field. Weconclude that transcranial pulse oximetry cannot distinguish between patients with hemodynamically relevant and irrelevant stenosis of the internal carotid artery. However it seems to be capable of distinguishing smokers from non-smokers. © 2008 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.