Among various classes of histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors, short-chain fatty acids exhibit the least potency, with IC(50) in the millimolar range. We rationalized that this weak potency was, in part, attributable to their inability to access the zinc cation in the HDAC active-site pocket, which is pivotal to the deacetylation catalysis. We thus explored the structural optimization of valproate, butyrate, phenylacetate, and phenylbutyrate by coupling them with Zn(2+)-chelating motifs (hydroxamic acid and o-phenylenediamine) through aromatic omega-amino acid linkers. This strategy has led to a novel class of Zn(2+)-chelating, motif-tethered, short-chain fatty acids that exhibited varying degrees of HDAC inhibitory potency. One hydroxamate-tethered phenylbutyrate compound, N-hydroxy-4-(4-phenylbutyrylamino)benzamide (HTPB), displayed nanomolar potency in inhibiting HDAC activity. Exposure of several cancer cell lines to HTPB at the submicromolar level showed reduced cell proliferation accompanied by histone hyperacetylation and elevated p21(WAF/CIP1) expression, which are hallmark features associated with intracellular HDAC inhibition.