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Thomas C. Jhou, PhD

Academic Title:

Associate Professor

Primary Appointment:


Phone (Primary):




NAME: Thomas Jhou

eRA COMMONS USER NAME (credential, e.g., agency login): JHOU.THOMAS

POSITION TITLE: Associate Professor, Department of Neurobiology

EDUCATION/TRAINING (Begin with baccalaureate education, include postdoctoral training and residency training if applicable.)



(if applicable)


Completion Date





Massachusetts Institute of Technology



Computer Science

Harvard University




University of California at San Francisco




Johns Hopkins University




National Institute on Drug Abuse

Research Fellow




  1. Personal Statement


I started my independent lab in 2010 at the Medical University of South Carolina, and moved in 2023 to the University of Maryland School of Medicine. During this time, my lab has focused on the neural mechanisms of addiction-like behaviors, with a particular emphasis on circuits related to the rostromedial tegmental nucleus (RMTg), a GABAergic afferent to midbrain DA neurons that I first identified in 2009. I have been continuously funded by the NIH since 2012, leading to over 50 authored or co-authored publications on topics such as aversive learning, cocaine- and opioid-seeking, punishment, fear, and sleep. These studies use a wide range of methods in both rats and mice, including physiological, anatomical, behavioral, and genomic techniques. I have also mentored five PhD students and five post-doctoral fellows, four of whom are currently in tenure-track faculty positions. These trainees have come from diverse backgrounds, including the Middle East, Asia, and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. I have also served on thesis committees for over 20 graduate students, and taught or co-taught departmental core courses as well as courses on data processing methods and biostatistics. Throughout these activities, I endeavor to maintain the highest standards of intellectual and scientific rigor in designing, conducting and analyzing scientific studies, while ensuring a safe and inclusive environment that helps trainees to progress in their chosen careers.



  1. Positions, Scientific Appointments, and Honors


Positions and Employment

2018-               Associate Professor, Department of Neurosciences, MUSC

2010-2018       Assistant Professor, Department of Neurosciences, MUSC

2008-2010       Research Fellow with Satoshi Ikemoto, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Baltimore, MD

2005-2008       Postdoctoral Fellow with Peter C. Holland, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD

2004-2005       Postdoctoral Fellow with Howard L. Fields, University of California at San Francisco


Honors and Awards

2022                NIDA/NIH MERIT award (Method To Extend Research In Time) for R01/R37DA054370.

2020                Research Excellence Award, MUSC College of Medicine

2013                Young Investigator Award (Herrick Award) from the American Association of Anatomists

2010                Travel Fellowship, Winter Conference on Brain Research, Breckenridge, CO

1999-2002       NIMH individual NRSA Predoctoral Fellowship, F31 MH012370


Other Experiences & Professional Memberships

2011-Present Member, Editorial Board, PLoS One


  1. Contributions to Science


Complete publication list in MyBibliography:


As of April 2022: 11202 total citations, 3847 citations since 2017, h-index=29.

Publications prior to 2004 are published under an alternate, now defunct, last name spelling: “Chou”.


Specific contributions:

  1. In 2009 I identified and characterized a previously unknown brain region, the rostromedial tegmental nucleus (RMTg) that sends dense GABAergic projections to dopamine neurons, acting as a “brake” on dopamine function. I have since shown that the RMTg forms the crux of an aversive learning system in the brain, that it is necessary and sufficient for avoidance learning, receives convergent inputs from widespread regions (particularly the lateral habenula), drives some of the rewarding and analgesic effects of opioids, and drives aversive effects of many drugs of abuse.
  2. Jhou TC, Geisler S, Marinelli M, Degarmo BA, Zahm DS. The mesopontine rostromedial tegmental nucleus: A structure targeted by the lateral habenula that projects to the ventral tegmental area of Tsai and substantia nigra compacta. J Comp Neurol. 2009; 513(6): 566-96. PMCID: PMC3116663.
  3. Jhou TC, Fields HL, Baxter MG, Saper CB, Holland PC. The rostromedial tegmental nucleus (RMTg), a GABAergic afferent to midbrain dopamine neurons, encodes aversive stimuli and inhibits motor responses. Neuron. 2009; 61(5): 786-800. PMCID: PMC2841475.
  4. 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, 2017; 81(12):1041-1049. PMCID: PMC5400739.
  5. Li H, Vento PJ, Parrilla-Carrero J, Chao YS, Eid M, Jhou TC. Three rostromedial tegmental afferents drive triply dissociable aspects of punishment learning and aversive valence encoding. Neuron, 104(5):987-999, Dec 2019, PMCID: PMC6989096.


  1. Neuroeconomic analyses of behavior. Use of mathematical and behavioral tools to understand cost-benefit decisions.
  2. Phillips PE, Walton ME, Jhou TC. Calculating utility: preclinical evidence for cost-benefit analysis by mesolimbic dopamine. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2007; 191(3): 483-95.
  3. Bentzley BS, Jhou TC, Aston-Jones G. Economic demand predicts addiction-like behavior and therapeutic efficacy of oxytocin in the rat. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014; 111(32): 11822-7. PMCID: PMC4136574.


  1. Identification of neural mechanisms underlying aversive effects of drugs of abuse.
  2. 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. 2013; 33(17): 7501-12. PMCID: PMC3865501.
  3. Parrilla-Carrero J, Eid M, Li H, Chao Y, Jhou TC, Synaptic adaptations at the rostromedial tegmental nucleus underlie individual differences in cocaine avoidance, Neuroscience, 41(21):4620-30, 2021, PMCID: PMC8260244.
  1. Chao YS, Parrilla-Carrero J, Eid M, Culver OP, Jackson TB, Lipat R, Taniguchi M, Jhou TC, Innate cocaine-seeking vulnerability arising from loss of serotonin-mediated aversive effects of cocaine in rats, Cell Rep. 2023 May 30;42(5):112404. PMCID: N/A


  1. Identification of opioidergic pathways involved in pain, reward, and sleep.
  2. Saper CB, Chou TC, Elmquist JK. The need to feed: homeostatic and hedonic control of eating. Neuron. 2002; 36(2): 199-211.
  3. Greco MA, Fuller PM, 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; 1245: 96-107. PMCID: PMC2753822.
  4. 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 (Berl). 2012; 224(2): 303-12. PMCID: PMC3482303.


  1. Identification of key pathways driving arousal and its circadian modulation. As a graduate student, I worked on the then-unknown problem of how outputs from the circadian clock in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) influenced arousal and behavior. I identified the dorsomedial hypothalamic area (DMH) as the key site linking SCN efferent pathways to behavioral (but not endocrine) circadian rhythms.
  2. Chou TC, Lee CE, Lu J, Elmquist JK, Hara J, Willie JT, Beuckmann CT, Chemelli RM, Sakurai T, Yanagisawa M, Saper CB, Scammell TE. Orexin (hypocretin) neurons contain dynorphin. J Neurosci. 2001; 21(19): RC168. PMCID: PMC6762880.
  3. Saper CB, Chou TC, Scammell TE. The sleep switch: hypothalamic control of sleep and wakefulness. Trends Neurosci. 2001;24(12):726-31.
  4. Chou TC, Bjorkum AA, Gaus SE, Lu J, Scammell TE, Saper CB. Afferents to the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus. J Neurosci. 2002; 22(3): 977-90. PMCID: PMC6758527.
  5. Chou TC, Scammell TE, Gooley JJ, Gaus SE, Saper CB, Lu J. Critical role of dorsomedial hypothalamic nucleus in a wide range of behavioral circadian rhythms. J Neurosci. 2003; 23(33): 10691-702. PMCID: PMC6740926.


Grants and Contracts

Ongoing support:


R37 DA054370

Jhou (PI)


Neural mechanisms of individual differences in cocaine avoidance


5U01 DA055017-02

Suto (PI), Role: subaward


Extensive drug histories result in compulsive appetite: functional identification of punishment-reactive neural network re-organization in the rostromedial tegmental nucleus


Lab Techniques and Equipment





Calcium imaging using endoscopes (Miniscopes) and fiber photometry

Transgenic mouse models

RNA sequencing


Links of Interest