Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic, progressive disease involving the globus pallidus (GP), which is a gray matter mass, surrounded by white matter deep within the brain. During a neurosurgery procedure, a thin probe is inserted into the GP to create a lesion that often relieves the cardinal symptoms of PD. The goal of this study is to develop an optical method to accurately locate the GP border. In theory, Monte Carlo simulations were performed to predict the optical reflectance from brain tissue. In experiment, a portable, real-time display spectrometer with a fiber optic reflectance probe was developed and used during human surgery. Optical reflectance values were recorded at 1 mm intervals to obtain a spatial profile of the tissue as the probe passed through regions of gray and white matter. The simulation and in vivo studies of the reflectance from the brain are in good agreement with one another. The clinical data show that the reflectance from gray matter is approximately 50% or less than that from white matter between 650 and 800 nm. A slope algorithm is developed to distinguish gray and white matter in vivo. This study provides previously unknown optical reflectance of the human brain. © 1998 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.