Central nervous system (CNS) relapse in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) is a devastating complication; the optimal prophylactic strategy remains unclear. We performed a multicentre, retrospective analysis of patients with DLBCL with high risk for CNS relapse as defined by two or more of: multiple extranodal sites, elevated serum LDH and B symptoms or involvement of specific high-risk anatomical sites. We compared three different strategies of CNS-directed therapy: intrathecal (IT) methotrexate (MTX) with (R)-CHOP 'group 1'; R-CHOP with IT MTX and two cycles of high-dose intravenous (IV) MTX 'group 2'; dose-intensive systemic antimetabolite-containing chemotherapy (Hyper-CVAD or CODOXM/IVAC) with IT/IV MTX 'group 3'. Overall, 217 patients were identified (49, 125 and 43 in groups 1-3, respectively). With median follow-up of 3.4 (range 0.2-18.6) years, 23 CNS relapses occurred (12, 10 and 1 in groups 1-3 respectively). The 3-year actuarial rates (95% CI) of CNS relapse were 18.4% (9.5-33.1%), 6.9% (3.5-13.4%) and 2.3% (0.4-15.4%) in groups 1-3, respectively (P=0.009). The addition of high-dose IV MTX and/or cytarabine was associated with lower incidence of CNS relapse compared with IT chemotherapy alone. However, these data are limited by their retrospective nature and warrant confirmation in prospective randomised studies.