Neuropathic pain is a major worldwide health problem. Although central sensitization has been reported in well-established neuropathic conditions, information on the acute brain activation patterns in response to peripheral nerve injury is lacking. This study first mapped the brain activity in rats immediately following spared nerve injury (SNI) of the sciatic nerve. Using blood-oxygenation-level-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging (BOLD-fMRI), we observed sustained activation in the bilateral insular cortices (ICs), primary somatosensory cortex (S1), and cingulate cortex. Second, this study sought to link this sustained activation pattern with brain sensitization. Using manganese-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (MEMRI), we observed enhanced activity in the ipsilateral anterior IC (AIC) in free-moving SNI rats on Days 1 and 8 post-SNI. Furthermore, enhanced functional connectivity between the ipsilateral AIC, bilateral rostral AIC, and S1 was observed on Day 8 post-SNI. Chronic electrophysiological recording experiments were conducted to confirm the tonic neuronal activation in selected brain regions. Our data provide evidence of tonic activation-dependent brain sensitization during neuropathic pain development and offer evidence that the plasticity changes in the IC and S1 may contribute to neuropathic pain development.