Information | What we do | Earlier work | Current members | Past members | Summer students | Hiring | Funding| Readings
Mailing Address Phone Numbers
Medical University of South Carolina
70 President St.
Drug Discovery Bldg DD221, MSC510
Charleston, SC 29425
Map with directions to lab (PDF file)
(843) 876-2290 (Office)
(843) 876-2268 (Lab)
(843) 792-4423 (Fax)

Email: jhou[at]

Thomas Jhou CV Publications How to pronounce

What we do
In lay terms, our lab studies the neural bases of motivated behavior, with a particular emphasis on addiction and depression, and how the brain learns from aversive outcomes. In 2009, I identified a previously unrecognized brain region, the rostromedial tegmental nucleus (RMTg). I was greatly helped by colleagues and mentors Scott Zahm, Howard Fields, Clif Saper, and Peter Holland. In the rat brain and schematic to the left, the RMTg is shown in red.

The RMTg sends major inhibitory signals to dopamine neurons, acting like a brake on these neurons. Dopamine neurons are critically involved in reward, pleasure, and motor movement, while conversely, the RMTg plays a roughly inverse role - contributing to aversive processes and motor inhibition. If the RMTg is damaged, the result is severely impulsive, addiction-like behavior, and we hypothesize that such damage may contribute to addictive behavior in people.

Our studies use a very wide range of tools, including anatomic, behavioral, electrophysiological, optogenetic, and genomic approaches.

Earlier Work
Before 2004 I worked on sleep and circadian rhythms with Dr. Clif Saper, and published under a defunct spelling of my last name "Chou." For more details on the old versus new spelling, see here.

Current Memebers
Thomas Jhou Pete Vento Hao Li Ying Chao Maya Eid
Thomas Jhou
Principal Investigator
Pete Vento
Hao Li
PhD Student
Ying Chao
MD/PhD Student
Maya Eid
MD/PhD Student
Nicki Pullmann Picture coming soon ...
Nicki Pullmann
Samantha Black

Past Memebers
Courtney Rowley Nathan Burnham Rachel Smith Scott Hoover Jennifer Rowell Sara Dunn
Courtney Rowley
Nathan Burnham
Rachel Smith
Post-doc and Research Assistant Professor
Scott Hoover
Masters Student
Jennifer Rowell
Sara Dunn

Summer Students
Nicole Cyr, Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP), (2013)
Nicki Pullmann, Bachelor's essay & independent study, College of Charleston, and SURP program (2013-2014)
Leonardo Awgulewitsch, Academic Magnet High School, North Charleston (2014)
Samantha Black, Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP), (2016)

 Visitors, volunteers, and collaborations are always welcome.

In addition, in 2017 we expect to have an opening for one technician, and one post-doctoral fellow.

For more information, email jhou[at]

Current funding:
NIDA R01DA037327 (2014-2019)
NIMH R01MH094489 (2012-2017) (subcontract)
NIDA R21DA032898 (2012-2015)

Institutional training grant (T32) to P. Vento
CEBRA (R21) to R. Smith

Completed funding:
NIDA R03DA034431 (2012-2014)
MUSC Alcohol Research Center (ARC) pilot grant (2013)

Background Reading Selected publications (in chronological order)
Other researchers have kindly written several summaries of our articles. They are concise and cogent, and I recommend them highly:

Quirk GJ, Sotres-Bayon F, "Signaling aversive events in the midbrain: worse than expected", Neuron, 61(5):655-6, 2009.

Rothwell PE, Lammel S, "Illuminating the opponent process: cocaine effects on habenulomesencephalic circuitry", J. Neurosci., 33(35):13935-7.
Note that publications prior to 2004 use an alternate, and now defunct, spelling of my last name, "Chou". For gory details on the spelling change, click here.

Access the recommendation on F1000PrimeChou, TC, Scammell, TE, Gooley, JJ, Gaus, SE, Saper, CB, Lu, J, "Critical role of the dorsomedial hypothalamic nucleus in a wide range of behavioral circadian rhythms", J. Neuroscience, 23(33):106910-702, 2003.

Jhou, T, Neural mechanisms of freezing and passive aversive behaviors, J. Comp. Neurol. 493(1):111-4, 2005.

Lu, J, Jhou, TC, Saper, CB, Identification of Wake-Active Dopaminergic Neurons in the Ventral Periaqueductal Gray Matter, J. Neurosci., January 4, 2006; 26(1): 193 - 202.

Phillips, PEM, Walton, ME, Jhou, TC, Calculating Utility: Preclinical evidence for cost-benefit analysis by mesolimbic dopamine, Psychopharmacology, 2007; 191(3):483-95.

Greco MA, Fuller P, Jhou, TC, Martin-Schild S, Zadina JE, Hu Z, Shiromani P, Lu J. Opioidergic projections to sleep-active neurons in the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus. Brain Res. 2008.

Jhou, TC, Geisler S, Marinelli M, DeGarmo BA, Zahm DS, The rostromedial tegmental nucleus: a mesopontine structure targeted by the lateral habenula that projects to the ventral tegmental area and substantia nigra compacta. J. Comp. Neurology, 513(6):566-96, 2009.

Access the recommendation on F1000Prime Jhou, TC, Fields, HL, Baxter, MG, Saper, CB, Holland PC, "The rostromedial tegmental nucleus (RMTg), a major GABAergic afferent to midbrain dopamine neurons, encodes aversive stimuli and promotes behavioral inhibition." Neuron,61(5):786-800, 2009.

Hong S, Jhou TC, Smith M, Saleem KS, Hikosaka, O, Negative reward signals from the lateral habenula to dopamine neurons are mediated by rostromedial tegmental nucleus in primates, J. Neurosci. 31(32):11457-71, 2011.

Jhou TC, Xu SP, Lee MR, Gallen CL, Ikemoto S., Mapping of reinforcing and analgesic effects of the mu opioid agonist Endomorphin-1 in the ventral midbrain of the rat. Psychopharmacology, 2012.

Access the recommendation on F1000Prime Jhou TC, Good CH, Rowley CS, Xu SP, Wang H, Burnham NW, Hoffman AF, Lupica CR, Ikemoto S, "Cocaine drives aversive conditioning via delayed activation of dopamine-responsive habenular and midbrain pathways. J. Neurosci., 33(17):7501-12, 2013.

Vento PJ, Rowley CS, Burnham NW, Jhou TC. "Learning from one's mistakes: A dual role for the rostromedial tegmental nucleus in the encoding and expression of punished reward seeking". Biological Psychiatry, 2016.

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(c) 2017. Thomas Jhou.