Advancing our understanding of neuroplasticity and the development of novel therapeutics based upon this knowledge is critical in order to improve the treatment and prevention of a myriad of nervous system disorders. Epigenetic mechanisms of neuroplasticity involve the post-translational modification of chromatin and the recruitment or loss of macromolecular complexes that control neuronal activity-dependent gene expression. While over a century after Ramón y Cajal first described nuclear subcompartments and foci that we now know correspond to sites of active transcription with acetylated histones that are under epigenetic control, the rate and extent to which epigenetic processes act in a dynamic and combinatorial fashion to shape experience-dependent phenotypic and behavioral plasticity in response to various types of neuronal stimuli over a range of time scales is only now coming into focus. With growing recognition that a subset of human diseases involving cognitive dysfunction can be classified as 'chromatinopathies', in which aberrant chromatin-mediated neuroplasticity plays a causal role in the underlying disease pathophysiology, understanding the molecular nature of epigenetic mechanisms in the nervous system may provide important new avenues for the development of novel therapeutics. In this review, we discuss the chemistry and neurobiology of the histone deacetylase (HDAC) family of chromatin-modifying enzymes, outline the role of HDACs in the epigenetic control of neuronal function, and discuss the potential relevance of these epigenetic mechanisms to the development of therapeutics aiming to enhance memory and neuroplasticity. Finally, open questions, challenges, and critical needs for the field of 'neuroepigenetics' in the years to come will be summarized.
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