Thomas Jhou, PhD

Curriculum Vitae

Publications on Google Scholar

(How to pronounce "Jhou")

Laboratory at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC)


Contact info:

Map with directions (PDF file)

Mailing address:   


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)


What we do: 

Our lab studies the neural bases of motivated behavior, with a particular emphasis on addiction, depression, and interactions between rewarding and aversive processes.  Several ongoing projects involve the role of the rostromedial tegmental nucleus (RMTg), a midbrain region I identified and characterized in 2009, along with Scott Zahm, Howard Fields, Clif Saper, and Peter Holland.  This region provides a major inhibitory input to dopamine neurons, and is critically required for both learning and expression of many aversive behaviors. This region is also known as the "tail of the VTA" (see the work of Michel Barrot). It is represented by the red symbols below:



Stimulation of the RMTg is highly aversive, while lesions or inactivations of the RMTg produce striking deficits in aversive behaviors, especially avoidance behavior. Notably, firing rates of RMTg functions are strikingly opposite to those of dopamine neurons (Jhou et al., 2009; Hong et al., 2011). We are now investigating the role of the RMTg and its afferents in addiction, depression, and decision-making, using both rats and transgenic mouse models, in combination with anatomical, 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.

Past and current lab members:

(in order of arrival to the lab)

Thomas Jhou
Principal Investigator

Courtney Rowley

Nathan Burnham
Pete Vento
Pete Vento
Rachel Smith
Rachel Smith
Post-doc and Research Assistant Professor 

(no photo yet)

Jen Hergatt

(no photo yet)

Taylor Scott Hoover
Masters Student
Jenn Thompson
Jennifer Thompson

Nicki Pullmann

Sara Dunn


Summer students

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



Please contact me for details.

For more information, email



Current funding:

NIDA R01DA037327 (2014-2019)
NIMH R01MH094489 (2012-2017) (subcontract)
NIDA R21DA032898 (2012-2014)

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:

Other researchers have kindly written several summaries of our articles. They are concise and cogent, and I recommend them to anyone who is new to the work we do: 

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.


Selected publications (in chronological order):

Note that publications prior to 2004 use an alternate, and now defunct, spelling of my last name, "Chou". For more gory details on the name spelling change, click here.

Access the recommendation on F1000Prime Chou, 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.


 Copyright 2014, Thomas Jhou