Thomas Jhou, PhD

Curriculum Vitae

Incidentally, "Jhou" is pronounced like "Joe"

Laboratory at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC)


Contact info:

Directions to our lab (PDF map)

Mailing address:   


Medical University of South Carolina
70 President St.
Drug Discovery Bldg DD221, MSC510
Charleston, SC 29425

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 along with collaborators Scott Zahm and Michel Barrot.  This region provides a major inhibitory input to dopamine neurons, and is critically required for a wide range of aversive behaviors, including fear and punishment. This region has been identified in rats, mice, and rhesus monkeys,is also known as the tail of the VTA (tVTA), and is represented by the red symbols below:



Lesions of the RMTg produce striking deficits in aversive behaviors with a avoidance or behavioral inhibitory component. Because of the RMTg's strong inhibitory control over dopamine neurons, it appears to play a role in behavior that is strikingly opposite to those of dopamine neurons. Whereas dopamine neurons are activated by rewards and their predictors, RMTg neurons are inhibited by these same stimuli, and activated by aversive stimuli (Jhou et al., 2009; Hong et al., 2011). Whereas activation of dopamine neurons is reinforcing, activation of the RMTg (by AMPA) induces conditioned place aversion (Jhou et al., 2012). Lesions or inactivation of the RMTg markedly reduce fear-induced freezing and several other aversive behaviors (Jhou et al., 2009, Jhou et al., 2013).

 We are now investigating the role of the RMTg and its afferents (from habenula, cortex, and other regions) in addiction and depression. We are using both rats and transgenic mouse models. Our lab is quite diverse for its size, and we currently combine a wide range of behavioral tests with anatomical, electrophysiological (both in vivo and slice), 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 members, in order of arrival:

Thomas Jhou

Courtney Rowley

Nathan Burnham
Pete Vento
Pete Vento
Rachel Smith
Rachel Smith
Research Assistant Professor 



Zach Gerber, College of Charleston  (2012-2013)      
Nicole Cyr, Summer Intern (2013)      
Nikki Pullman, Bachelor's essay student, College of Charleston  (2013-2014)      



We are seeking two postdoctoral fellows, and one technician level position.

For more information, email



We are funded by:

NIDA R01DA037327 (2014-2019)
NIDA R21DA032898 (2012-2014)
NIDA R03DA034431 (2012-2014)
NIMH R01MH094489 (2012-2017) (subcontract)

Our post-doctoral fellows are supported on their own grants as well (T32 and R21).

Background reading:

Several summaries of our articles have been kindly written by other researchers in the field. They are much shorter than the original articles, and will be a good introduction for those just getting into this field of study. They are listed below: 

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".

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