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Dr. Tong is currently 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.

Areas of Interest

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. These advanced techniques ensure our studies are effective and conclusions are insightful.

One major direction in the lab is to identify how neurons and glial cells interact to maintain homeostasis at both energy and behavioral levels. Novel tracing, RNAseq and imaging techniques are used in the lab to target glial cells and neurons under the context of normal, and various stressful and disease states to interrogate their specific functions in normal and metabolically challenged conditions.

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
  • Glial cell contributions to neuron function and related metabolic diseases


Visit the PubMed profile page

  1. Cai J, Jiang Y, Xu Y, Jiang Z, Young C, Li H, Ortiz-Guzman J, Zhuo Y, Li Y, Xu Y, Arenkiel BR, Tong Q. An excitatory projection from the basal forebrain to the ventral tegmental area that underlies anorexia-like phenotypes. Neuron. 2023 Dec 1: S0896-6273(23)00845-0. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2023.11.001. PMCID: PMC10922337
  2. Cai J, Chen J, Ortiz-Guzman J, Huang J, Arenkiel BR, Wang Y, Zhang Y, Shi Y, Tong Q, Zhan C. AgRP neurons are not indispensable for body weight maintenance in adult mice. Cell Rep. 2023 Jul 25;42(7):112789. 10.1016/j.celrep.2023. 112789. Epub 2023 Jul 8. PMCID: PMC10909125 Free article. Co-Corresponding.
  3. Xu Y, Jiang Z, Li H, Cai J, Jiang Y, Otiz-Guzman J, Xu Y, Arenkiel BR, Tong Q. Lateral septum as a melanocortin downstream site in obesity development. Cell Rep. 2023 May 30;42(5):112502. Doi 10.1016/j.celrep.2023.112502. Epub 2023 May 11.  PMCID: PMC10317244 
  4. Li H, Xu Y, Jiang Y, Jiang Z, Otiz-Guzman J, Morrill JC, Cai J, Mao Z, Xu Y, Arenkiel BR, Huang C, Tong Q. The melanocortin action is biased toward protection from weight loss in mice. Nat Commun. 2023 Apr 17;14(1):2200. doi: 10.1038/s41467-023-37912-z. PMCID: PMC10110624
  5. Fan S, Xu Y, Lu Y, Jiang Z, Li H, Morrill JC, Cai J, Wu Q, Xu Y, Xue M, Arenkiel BR, Huang C, Tong Q. A neural basis for brain leptin action on reducing type 1 diabetic hyperglycemia. Nat Commun. 2021 May 11;12(1):2662. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-22940-4. PMCID: PMC8113586
  6. Kim ER, Xu Y, Cassidy RM, Lu Y, Yang Y, Tian J, Li DP, Van Drunen R, Ribas-Latre A, Cai ZL, Xue M, Arenkiel BR, Eckel-Mahan K, Xu Y, Tong Q. Paraventricular hypothalamus mediates diurnal rhythm of metabolism. Nat Commun. 2020 Jul 30;11(1):3794. doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-17578-7. PMCID: PMC7393104
  7. Zhu C, Jiang Z, Xu Y, Cai ZL, Jiang Q, Xu Y, Xue M, Arenkiel BR, Wu Q, Shu G, Tong Q. Profound and redundant functions of arcuate neurons in obesity development. Nat Metab. 2020 Aug;2(8):763-774. doi: 10.1038/s42255-020-0229-2. Epub 2020 Jul 27. PMCID: PMC7687864
  8. 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 Neurociruit Underlying Regulation of Feeding by Stress-related Emotional Responses. Nat Commun. 2019 Aug 1;10(1):3446. doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-11399-z.  PMCID: PMC6671997
  9. 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. PMCID: PMC6402846
  10. Mangieri LR, Lu Y, Xu Y, Cassidy RM, Xu Y, Arenkiel BR and Tong Q. A Neural Basis for Antagonistic Control of Feeding and Compulsive  Behaviors. Nat Commun. 2018 Jan 4;9(1):52. doi: 10.1038/s41467-017-02534-9. PMCID: PMC5754347
  11. Xu Y, Wu Z, Sun H, Zhu Y, Kim ER, Arenkiel BR, Lowell BB, Xu Y and Tong Q. Glutamate Mediates the Function of MC4Rs on Sim1 Neurons in Body Weight Regulation. Cell Metabolism. 2013, 18 (6): 860-870. PMCID: PMC3880549