The loss of descending inhibitory control is thought critical to the development of chronic pain but what causes this loss in function is not well understood. We have investigated the dynamic contribution of prelimbic cortical neuronal projections to the periaqueductal grey (PrL-P) to the development of neuropathic pain in rats using combined opto- and chemo-genetic approaches. We found PrL-P neurons to exert a tonic inhibitory control on thermal withdrawal thresholds in uninjured animals. Following nerve injury, ongoing activity in PrL-P neurons masked latent hypersensitivity and improved affective state. However, this function is lost as the development of sensory hypersensitivity emerges. Despite this loss of tonic control, opto-activation of PrL-P neurons at late post-injury timepoints could restore the anti-allodynic effects by inhibition of spinal nociceptive processing. We suggest that the loss of cortical drive to the descending pain modulatory system underpins the expression of neuropathic sensitisation after nerve injury.