Numerous studies have pointed to histone deacetylase inhibitors as potential therapeutics for various neurodegenerative diseases, and clinical trials with several histone deacetylase inhibitors have been performed or are under way. However, histone deacetylase inhibitors tested to date either are highly cytotoxic or have very low specificities for different histone deacetylase enzymes. The authors' laboratories have identified a novel class of histone deacetylase inhibitors (2-aminobenzamides) that reverses heterochromatin-mediated silencing of the frataxin (FXN) gene in Friedreich ataxia. The authors have identified the histone deacetylase enzyme isotype target of these compounds and present evidence that compounds that target this enzyme selectively increase FXN expression from pathogenic alleles. Studies with model compounds show that these histone deacetylase inhibitors increase FXN messenger RNA levels in the brain in mouse models for Friedreich ataxia and relieve neurological symptoms observed in mouse models and support the notion that this class of molecules may serve as therapeutics for the human disease.