Molecular events that result in loss of pain perception are poorly understood in diabetic neuropathy. Our results show that the receptor for advanced glycation end products (RAGE), a receptor associated with sustained NF-kappaB activation in the diabetic microenvironment, has a central role in sensory neuronal dysfunction. In sural nerve biopsies, ligands of RAGE, the receptor itself, activated NF-kappaBp65, and IL-6 colocalized in the microvasculature of patients with diabetic neuropathy. Activation of NF-kappaB and NF-kappaB-dependent gene expression was upregulated in peripheral nerves of diabetic mice, induced by advanced glycation end products, and prevented by RAGE blockade. NF-kappaB activation was blunted in RAGE-null (RAGE(-/-)) mice compared with robust enhancement in strain-matched controls, even 6 months after diabetes induction. Loss of pain perception, indicative of long-standing diabetic neuropathy, was reversed in WT mice treated with soluble RAGE. Most importantly, loss of pain perception was largely prevented in RAGE(-/-) mice, although they were not protected from diabetes-induced loss of PGP9.5-positive plantar nerve fibers. These data demonstrate, for the first time to our knowledge, that the RAGE-NF-kappaB axis operates in diabetic neuropathy, by mediating functional sensory deficits, and that its inhibition may provide new therapeutic approaches.