Despite a high proportion of patients with primary CNS lymphoma (PCNSL) experiences failure after/during first-line treatment, a few studies focused on salvage therapy are available, often with disappointing results. Herein, we report feasibility and activity of a combination of rituximab, ifosfamide and etoposide (R-IE regimen) in a multicentre series of patients with PCNSL relapsed or refractory to high-dose methotrexate-based chemotherapy. We considered consecutive HIV-negative patients ≤75 years old with failed PCNSL treated with R-IE regimen (rituximab 375 mg/m2, day 0; ifosfamide 2 g/m2/day, days1–3; etoposide 250 mg/m2, day 1; four courses). Twenty-two patients (median age 60 years; range 39–72; male/female ratio: 1:4) received R-IE as second-line (n = 18) or third-line (n = 4) treatment. Eleven patients had refractory PCNSL, and 11 had relapsing disease. Twelve patients had been previously irradiated. Sixty (68%) of the 88 planned courses were actually delivered; only one patient interrupted R-IE because of toxicity. Grade 4 hematological toxicity was manageable; a single case of grade 4 non-hematological toxicity (transient hepatotoxicity) was recorded. Response was complete in six patients and partial in three (overall response rate = 41%; 95%CI: 21–61%). Seven patients were successfully referred to autologous peripheral blood stem cell collection; four responders were consolidated with high-dose chemotherapy supported by autologous stem cell transplant. At a median follow-up of 24 months, eight responders did not experience relapse, two of them died of neurological impairment while in remission. Six patients are alive, with a 2-year survival after relapse of 25 ± 9%. We concluded that R-IE is a feasible and active combination for patients with relapsed/refractory PCNSL. This regimen allows stem cell collection and successful consolidation with high-dose chemotherapy and autologous transplant. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.