Karen Vasquez, Ph.D.

Karen Vasquez Profile Pic

Division Head and Professor of Pharmacology & Toxicology
Doluisio Regents Professor

Key Words: DNA damage and repair, genomic instability, gene targeting, DNA structure, cancer therapeutics

Our research efforts are focused in three general areas within an overall theme of genome instability, DNA damage and mechanisms of repair. A unique feature of our approach is an emphasis on the role of DNA structure, including non-canonical structures such as triplex DNA, as recognition sites for repair machinery, sources of genomic instability, and as a basis for technology to target DNA damage to specific genomic sites.

Z-DNA is a left-handed alternative DNA structure that forms at alternating purine-pyrimidine repeats
Cruciform DNA is an alternative DNA structure that forms at inverted repeats
H-DNA is a three-stranded intramolecular triplex structure that forms at mirror repeats





1. DNA structure in genomic instability and human disease.

The consequences of genomic instability are causative factors for several human diseases that involve repetitive DNA sequences. Many repetitive sequences are able to adopt non-B secondary structures. Interestingly, many of these repeats occur near breakpoints of chromosomal translocations, implicating them in cancer etiology. One example is the H-DNA-forming sequence in the human c-MYC gene that maps to breakage hotspots in Burkitt’s lymphoma, that we have discovered is both mutagenic and induces DNA double-strand breaks in mammalian cells. These exciting results provide the first evidence that naturally occurring H-DNA structures are mutagenic; they also support a role for DNA structure in oncogenic translocations. Our studies will determine the mutagenic potential and mechanistic role of non-canonical DNA structures in human disease, with an emphasis on translocation-mediated cancers

Replication and repair mechinsms of DNA structure induced genetic instability, label reads 'deletion and translocation'

2. Molecular mechanisms of DNA damage recognition and repair.

Defects in DNA repair systems can lead to severe clinical disorders; for example, it is estimated that ~90% of human cancers result from improperly repaired DNA damage. Our work aims to elucidate the molecular basis of damage recognition in order to develop a better understanding of the mutagenic potential and cancer risks of different types of DNA lesions.

3. Novel strategies to modify gene structure and function in living organisms.

An area of intense investigation in my laboratory is the development of triplex technology to improve the existing gene targeting methods by directing damage to specific genomic sites to increase the frequency of recombination and to direct gene inactivation. Our objective is to improve the utility of triplex technology as a tool for genetic manipulation in animals and to develop novel therapeutic strategies for treating cancer.

Space-filling model of a triplex-forming oligonucleotide (TFO) bound to its target duplex. The TFO is shown in red bound to the purine-rich strand of the target duplex (blue) in the major groove. A psoralen derivative covalently linked to the TFO is shown in yellow. The pyrimidine-rich strand is shown in green.

Academic Appointments

Current Appointments:

James T. Doluisio Regents Professor

Head of Division of Pharmacology and Toxicology

Professor and Coulter R. Sublett Fellow The University of Texas at Austin Division of Pharmacology and Toxicology College of Pharmacy Dell Pediatric Research Institute


Adjunct Professor The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Department of Molecular Carcinogenesis Science Park – Research Division Smithville, TX Adjunct Professor Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) The Universityof Texas Health Science Center at Houston Houston, TX Adjunct Professor Member, Center for Molecular and Cellular Toxicology College of Pharmacy The University of Texas at Austin Austin, TX

Past Appointments:

Associate Professor (2006-2011) The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Department of Molecular Carcinogenesis Science Park – Research Division Smithville, TX
Assistant Professor (2001-2006) The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Department of Molecular Carcinogenesis Science Park – Research Division Smithville, TX


Degree-Granting Education
1996 Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, Doctor of Philosophy, Biochemistry

1987 University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, BS, Biology, Marine Science Postgraduate Training

Postgraduate Training

1997-2000 Postdoctoral Fellowship, Yale University School of Medicine, Department of Therapeutic Radiology, New Haven, CT

1996-1997 Postdoctoral Associate, Baylor College of Medicine, Deparment of Biochemistry, Houston, TX Experience/Service

For an updated list of publications from the Vasquez Laboratory, please Click to access Pubmed Publications

Luke Browning, GRA

Laura Christensen, RE/SA III

Lexie D’Amico, GRA

Jill Dangerfield, GRA

Imee Del Mundo, Research Associate

Maha Foote, Visiting Researcher

Van Huynh, GRA

Alex Klattenhoff, GRA

Tonia Li, GRA

Pooja Mandke, GRA

Anirban Mukherjee, Research Associate

Guliang Wang, Research Assistant Professor

Vasquez Lab group photo standing in front of building

Vasquez Lab Group Photo

Contact Information
Campus location:

US Mail Address:
The University of Texas at Austin
107 West Dean Keeton, C0875
BME 3.510A
Austin, TX 78712


The University of Texas at Austin
Dell Pediatric Research Institute
1400 Barabara Jordan Blvd, R1800
DPI 2.214
Austin, TX 78723

DPRI Photo
Dell Pediatric Research Institute (DPRI)