Please note: The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio will now be called "UT Health San Antonio."

Search Program Faculty/Research

Denise O’Keefe, Ph.D.

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Dr. Denise O’Keefe researches the role of folate in the initiation and progression of prostate cancer. The most common molecular changes seen in prostate cancer are epigenetic (non-mutational) in nature, such as the hypermethylation of gene promoter sequences leading to changes in gene expression. Folate, which is both found in the diet in its natural form and as the artificial folic acid in fortified foods such as breads and cereals, is part of the one-carbon pathway, which supplies the methyl groups responsible for nearly all biological methylation reactions in the cell, including DNA, RNA, and histone methylation. We are studying the effect different dietary levels of folate or folic acid have on prostate cancer or other cancer-related cells, to determine if there are possibly different dietary recommendations that could be made for patients at risk for, or whom have cancer.

Another related project we have running looks at the mechanism(s) by which PSMA (Prostate-Specific Membrane Antigen) promotes prostate cancer progression. PSMA is a folate hydrolase, and allows cells expressing it to take up more folate, which is needed for methylation reactions, as well as cell proliferation. We are also studying other epigenetic changes frequently seen in prostate tumors that allow expression of the so called “junk DNA” in our genome, which causes disruption of the nuclear structure and subsequent ectopic expression of these “retrotransposons,” likely resulting in ectopic expression of growth-promoting genes, and repression of growth regulating genes.

Our goal is to investigate the potential mechanisms leading to these epigenetic changes to better understand the etiology of prostate cancer and develop novel tools for diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of the disease, and apply the findings to other cancers.

Selected Publications 

To see a list of publications, click here

Associate Professor, Urology

Cell Systems and Anatomy


Ph.D., University of Adelaide, 1995

B.S., Human Genetics and Variation, La Trobe University, 1990



Phone: (210) 562-4098

Graduate Students

Shahida Flores