Regulation of gene expression is mediated by several mechanisms such as DNA methylation, ATP-dependent chromatin remodeling, and post-translational modifications of histones. The latter mechanism includes dynamic acetylation and deacetylation of epsilon-amino groups of lysine residues present in the tail of the core histones. Enzymes responsible for the reversible acetylation/deacetylation processes are histone acetyltransferases (HATs) and histone deacetylases (HDACs), respectively. There are three mammalian HDAC families, namely HDACs I, II and III based on their sequence homology. Inhibitors of HDACs induce hyperacetylation of histones that modulate chromatin structure and gene expression resulting in growth arrest, cell differentiation, and apoptosis of tumor cells. In addition, HDAC inhibitors enhance efficacy of anticancer agents that target DNA. Several formidable challenges associated with their development include non-specific toxicity and poor PK properties, including cell permeability. In this review, we comment on the current progress in design, discovery, in vitro/ex vivo activity and clinical potential of the synthetic modulators of HDACs.