One of the most dramatic chromatin remodelling processes takes place during mammalian spermatogenesis. Indeed, during the postmeiotic maturation of male haploid germ cells, or spermiogenesis, histones are replaced by small basic proteins, which in mammals are transition proteins and protamines. However, nothing is known of the mechanisms controlling the process of histone replacement. Two hints from the literature could help to shed light on the underlying molecular events: one is the massive synthesis of histone variants, including testis-specific members, and the second is a stage specific post-translational modification of histones. A new testis-specific 'histone code' can therefore be generated combining both histone variants and histone post-translational modifications. This review will detail these two phenomena and discuss possible functional significance of the global chromatin alterations occurring prior to histone replacement during spermiogenesis.