Histone acetylation and deacetylation are directly connected with transcriptional activation and silencing in eukaryotes. Gene families for enzymes that accomplish these histone modifications show surprising complexity in domain organization, tissue-specific expression, and function. This review is focused on the family of histone deacetylases (HDACs) that remove the acetyl group from core histone tails, resulting in a "closed" chromatin and transcriptional repression. In Arabidopsis, 18 HDAC genes are divided into three different types - RPD3-like, HD-tuin and sirtuin - with two or more members in each type. The structural feature of each HDAC class, the expression profile of each HDAC gene during development and functional insights of important family members are summarized here. It is clear that HDACs are an important class of global transcriptional regulators that play crucial roles in plant development, defense, and adaptation.