Spinal cord microglia contribute to nerve injury-induced neuropathic pain. We have previously demonstrated that toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2) signaling is critical for nerve injury-induced activation of spinal cord microglia, but the responsible endogenous TLR2 agonist has not been identified. Here, we show that nerve injury-induced upregulation of sialyltransferase St3gal2 in sensory neurons leads to an increase in expression of the sialylated glycosphingolipid, GT1b. GT1b ganglioside is axonally transported to the spinal cord dorsal horn and contributes to characteristics of neuropathic pain such as mechanical and thermal hypersensitivity. Spinal cord GT1b functions as an TLR2 agonist and induces proinflammatory microglia activation and central sensitization. Pharmacological inhibition of GT1b synthesis attenuates nerve injury-induced spinal cord microglia activation and pain hypersensitivity. Thus, the St3gal2-GT1b-TLR2 axis may offer a novel therapeutic target for the treatment of neuropathic pain.
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