Eukaryotic genomes are packaged into nucleosomes, which are thought to repress gene expression generally. Repression is particularly evident at yeast telomeres, where genes within the telomeric heterochromatin appear to be silenced by the histone-binding silent information regulator (SIR) complex (Sir2, Sir3, Sir4) and Rap1 (refs 4-10). Here, to investigate how nucleosomes and silencing factors influence global gene expression, we use high-density arrays to study the effects of depleting nucleosomal histones and silencing factors in yeast. Reducing nucleosome content by depleting histone H4 caused increased expression of 15% of genes and reduced expression of 10% of genes, but it had little effect on expression of the majority (75%) of yeast genes. Telomere-proximal genes were found to be de-repressed over regions extending 20 kilobases from the telomeres, well beyond the extent of Sir protein binding and the effects of loss of Sir function. These results indicate that histones make Sir-independent contributions to telomeric silencing, and that the role of histones located elsewhere in chromosomes is gene specific rather than generally repressive.