Aberrant gene regulation plays an important role in tumor initiation and progression, and the acetylation of histones is a well understood key component of gene regulation. Histone acetylation involves the opposing activities of the histone acetyltransferases (HATs) and histone deacetylases (HDACs)--histone acetylation is associated with increased transcriptional activity while histone deacetylation is associated with repression of gene expression. In addition, the modification of non-histone proteins by HATs and HDACs is also an important process in regulating gene expression. Several lines of evidence suggest that inappropriate transcriptional activation and repression mediated by HATs and HDACs is a common occurrence in the formation of many different types of cancer. These enzymes thus represent novel molecular targets for which inhibitors are sought that could reprogram transcription and inhibit tumor cell growth and progression. Much of the research has focused on HDAC inhibitors, where several agents have demonstrated in vitro and in vivo activity against different tumor cell models and have entered Phase I clinical trials. HDAC inhibitors are believed to exert their antiproliferative effects by inducing a small set of genes involved in regulating cellular activities such as proliferation and differentiation. Future research is expected to lead to a better understanding of the molecular targets of HDACs and facilitate the development of more potent inhibitors of these enzymes. First results from clinical trials will help to determine the optimal strategy for utilizing these agents for the treatment of cancer patients.