Transcriptional regulation in eukaryotes occurs within a chromatin setting and is strongly influenced by nucleosomal barriers imposed by histone proteins. Among the well-known covalent modifications of histones, the reversible acetylation of internal lysine residues in histone amino-terminal domains has long been positively linked to transcriptional activation. Recent biochemical and genetic studies have identified several large, multisubunit enzyme complexes responsible for bringing about the targeted acetylation of histones and other factors. This review discusses our current understanding of histone acetyltransferases (HATs) or acetyltransferases (ATs): their discovery, substrate specificity, catalytic mechanism, regulation, and functional links to transcription, as well as to other chromatin-modifying activities. Recent studies underscore unexpected connections to both cellular regulatory processes underlying normal development and differentiation, as well as abnormal processes that lead to oncogenesis. Although the functions of HATs and the mechanisms by which they are regulated are only beginning to be understood, these fundamental processes are likely to have far-reaching implications for human biology and disease.