The epsilon-isozyme of protein kinase C (PKCepsilon) and the vanilloid receptor 1 (VR1) are both expressed in dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons and are reported to be predominantly and specifically involved in nociceptive function. Using phosphospecific antibody against the C-terminal hydrophobic site Ser729 of PKCepsilon as a marker of enzyme activation, the state-dependent activation of PKCepsilon, as well as the expression of VR1 in rat DRG neurons, was evaluated in different experimental pain models in vivo. Quantitative analysis showed that phosphorylation of PKCepsilon in DRG neurons was significantly up-regulated after carrageen- and Complete Freund's Adjuvant-induced inflammation, while it was markedly down-regulated after chronic constriction injury. A double-labeling study showed that phosphorylation of PKCepsilon was expressed predominantly in VR1 immunoreactivity positive small diameter DRG neurons mediating the nociceptive information from peripheral tissue to spinal cord. The VR1 protein expression showed no significant changes after either inflammation or chronic constriction injury. These data indicate that functional activation of PKCepsilon has a close relationship with the production of inflammatory hyperalgesia and the sensitization of the nociceptors. Inflammatory mediator-induced activation of PKCepsilon and subsequent sensitization of VR1 to noxious stimuli by PKCepsilon may be involved in nociceptor sensitization.