Our lab works on addiction, depression, and sleep, with a particular emphasis on the rostromedial tegmental nucleus (RMTg), which I identified in 2009, along with colleagues/mentors Scott Zahm, Howard Fields, Clif Saper, and Peter Holland.

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 energization of motor responses, 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.

In the rat brain and schematic below, the RMTg is shown in red.

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


Current funding
NIDA U01DA044468
NIDA R01DA037327
NINDS R41NS102049
DoD W911NF-16-2-0070

Completed funding
NIDA R03DA034431 (2012-2014)
NIDA R21DA032898 (2012-2015)
NIMH R01MH094489 (2012-2017) (subcontract)
MUSC Alcohol Research Center (ARC) pilot grant (2013)
NRSA (F32) to P. Vento
CEBRA (R21) to R. Smith

Current Members

Former Members


Name *

Phone Numbers

(843) 876-2290 (Office)
(843) 876-2268 (Lab)
(843) 792-4423 (Fax)

Email: jhou[at]

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)