Alterations of chromatin structure have been shown to be crucial for response to cell signaling and for programmed gene expression in development. Posttranslational histone modifications influence changes in chromatin structure both directly and by targeting or activating chromatin-remodeling complexes. Histone modifications intersect with cell signaling pathways to control gene expression and can act combinatorially to enforce or reverse epigenetic marks in chromatin. Through their recognition by protein complexes with enzymatic activities cross talk is established between different modifications and with other epigenetic pathways, including noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs) and DNA methylation. Here, we review the functions of histone modifications and their exploitation in the programming of gene expression during several events in development.