Preconditioning nerve injuries activate a pro-regenerative program that enhances axon regeneration for most classes of sensory neurons. However, nociceptive sensory neurons and central nervous system neurons regenerate poorly. In hopes of identifying novel mechanisms that promote regeneration, we screened for drugs that mimicked the preconditioning response and identified a nociceptive ligand that activates a preconditioninglike response to promote axon outgrowth. We show that activating the ion channel TRPV1 with capsaicin induces axon outgrowth of cultured dorsal root ganglion (DRG) sensory neurons, and that this effect is blocked in TRPV1 knockout neurons. Regeneration occurs only in NF200-negative nociceptive neurons, consistent with a cellautonomous mechanism. Moreover, we identify a signaling pathway in which TRPV1 activation leads to calcium influx and protein kinase A (PKA) activation to induce a preconditioning-like response. Finally, capsaicin administration to the mouse sciatic nerve activates a similar preconditioning-like response and induces enhanced axonal outgrowth, indicating that this pathway can be induced in vivo. These findings highlight the use of local ligands to induce regeneration and suggest that it may be possible to target selective neuronal populations for repair, including cell types that often fail to regenerate. © 2018 Frey et al.