Dr. Qingchun Tong, Ph.D.

Dr. Qingchun Tong, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Center for Metabolic and Degenerative Disease; Cullen Chair in Molecular Medicine

Email Address: Qingchun.Tong@uth.tmc.edu
Phone Number: 713-500-3453
Room Number: SRB 430G


Neurocircuits, Behavior, and Metabolism

Lab Website: http://www.tong-laboratory.com/

Dr. Tong’s presentation on his research: https://uthvideo.uth.tmc.edu/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=d9621a8a-a195-4fb5-8161-aa3e01354a4c

Dr. Tong is currently Associate Professor and Cullen Chair in Molecular Medicine of IMM of McGovern Medical School of UTHealth. He is also an adjunct faculty member of Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy of McGovern Medical School, and of Endocrine division of Department of Medicine at Baylor College Medicine. He received his B.S. in Biology from Anhui Normal University of China in1996, and M.S. in Physiology from Shanghai Institute of Physiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1999. He then moved to US and obtained his PhD in Neural and Behavioral Sciences from SUNY Downstate Medical Center in 2003. He expanded his PhD studies during his postdoc training at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School during 2003-2009, where he used extensive mouse genetics to study hypothalamic neurocircuits and feeding behaviors related to obesity and diabetes. In 2009, he was recruited to IMM of UTHealth and has remained as a faculty member ever since. 

Research Interests

The current obesity epidemic and its associated metabolic syndrome have imposed unprecedented challenges to society and medicine, but with no apparent effective therapeutics. Our research is directed to understand the fundamental mechanistic insights on key driving causes for defective feeding and body weight regulation, therefore providing conceptual and effective targets for prevention and treatment of eating disorders, obesity and its associated diabetes.

Toward our goals, we employ various animal models in combination with the state of the art techniques including electrophysiology, optogenetics, chemogenetics and in vivo live imaging. Cre-lox P mouse genetics is used to achieve neuron-specific manipulations in the brain. Also various adenoassociated viral vectors (AAV) harboring genes that exhibit Cre-dependent expression will be delivered to specific brain regions of Cre-expressing neurons, achieving neuron-expression of foreign tool genes. Example foreign genes include specific channels that either activate or inhibit neurons. In addition, virus based tracing is used to map specific neural projections and their implications in physiology and behaviors. We are also exploring to use CRISPR/Cas9 technology to achieve neuron-specific gene deletion in adult mice. We will also combine the newly available Flpo lines and Flpo-dependent AAV vectors with the existing Cre-loxP system to achieve more specific targeting and tracing functional neurocircuits. These advanced techniques ensure our studies are effective and conclusions are insightful.

One major direction in the lab is to identify and map novel neurocircuits underlying emotion control of feeding. Emerging evidence suggests that feeding abnormalities are associated with defects in control of emotion and clinical drugs that reduce symptoms of psychiatric disorders cause obesity development. Using unique animal models coupled with behavioral analysis and optogenetics, we aim to delineate important neurons and neural pathways that underscore interactive regulation of feeding and emotion. This line of research is highly significant to current clinical treatments for obesity, psychiatric patients and eating disorders.

Ongoing Research Projects

  • Novel neurons and neural pathways for feeding regulation and its relation with emotional states
  • Brain efferent pathways controlling peripheral metabolism
  • Brain mechanisms mediating blood hormone action on energy and glucose, and their involvement in obesity and diabetes pathogenesis
  • Chronic stress and obesity development

Key Recent Publications

  1. Cassidy RM, Lu Y, Jere M, Tian JB, Xu Y, Mangieri LR, Felix-Okoroji B, Selever J, Xu Y, Arenkiel BR, Tong Q. A lateral hypothalamus to basal forebrain neurocircuit promotes feeding by suppressing responses to anxiogenic environmental cues. Sci Adv. 2019 Mar 6;5(3):eaav1640. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aav1640. eCollection 2019 Mar. PMID: 30854429.
  1. Mangieri LR, Jiang Z, Lu Y, Xu Y, Cassidy RM, Justice NJ, Xu Y, Arenkiel BR and Tong Q. Defensive Behaviors Driven by a Hypothalamic-Ventral Midbrain Circuit. eNeuro, 2019 6(4). pii: ENEURO.0156-19.2019. doi: 10.1523/ENEURO.0156-19.2019. PMID: 31331938.
  1. Xu Y, Lu Y, Cassidy RM, Mangieri, LR, Zhu Y, Huang X, Jiang Z, Justice NJ, Xu Y, Arenkiel BR and Tong Q. Identification of a Neurocircuit Underlying Regulation of Feeding by Stress-related Emotional Responses. Nat Commun. 2019 Aug 1;10(1):3446. doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-11399-z. PMID: 31371721.
  1. Patel JM, Swanson J, Ung K, Herman A, Hanson E, Ortiz-Guzman J, Selever J, Tong Q, Arenkiel BR. Sensory perception drives food avoidance through excitatory basal forebrain circuits. 2019 May 10;8. pii: e44548. doi: 10.7554/eLife.44548. PMID: 31074744.
  1. Mangieri LR, Lu Y, Xu Y, Cassidy RM, Xu Y, Arenkiel BR and Tong Q. Antagonistic Control of Feeding and Self-grooming Behaviors by GABAergic and Glutamatergic LH→PVH Projections. Nat Commun. 2018 Jan 4;9(1):52. doi: 10.1038/s41467-017-02534-9. PMID: 29302029.