Whether the poor prognosis of primary central nervous system lymphoma (PCNSL) compared with systemic diffuse large B cell lymphoma (DLBCL) is attributable to the immune privilege of the intracerebral location or to intrinsic differences in the biological characteristics of two types of lymphoma remains unclear. Monocyte chemoattractant protein 1 (MCP-1) is essential to support tumor cell survival and growth, and the present study aimed to compare MCP-1 expression in PCNSL and peripheral DLBCL. The present study included 19 patients with PCNSL and 16 patients with DLBCL, all of whom had tissue diagnosis and lymphoma tissue samples available for analysis. Histology included immunohistochemistry using antibodies against a panel of lymphoma markers, antibodies specific to MCP-1, and antibodies specific to tumor-associated macrophages. MCP-1 expression was quantified using immunostaining scoring. RNA extraction and reverse transcription-quantitative polymerase chain reaction were used to determine MCP-1 mRNA expression. In addition, a human brain-derived lymphoma cell line, HKBML, was stimulated with MCP-1 and cell proliferation was measured by 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine incorporation. The expression levels of MCP-1 mRNA and MCP-1 protein were significantly increased in PCNSL compared with peripheral DLBCL. MCP-1 induced tyrosine phosphorylation of mitogen-activated protein kinase in HKBML cells, as analyzed by western blotting. The results of the present study indicated that MCP-1 expression in PCNSL promoted cell proliferation in an autocrine manner.