The histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDIs) are a new class of antineoplastic agents currently being evaluated in clinical trials. While these agents have been studied extensively in the laboratory, only recently has their mechanism of action begun to be elucidated. Several structural classes of compounds have been shown to exert histone deacetylase inhibition, including sodium n-butyrate, suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid, LAQ824, CI-994, MS-275, and depsipeptide. The HDIs have been shown to induce differentiation, to decrease cell proliferation, and to induce cell death. HDIs are thought to exert their anti-neoplastic effects by altering the expression of genes that play a role in the control of cell growth, and transformation. The HDIs have specific and well-defined effects on cancer cells. Preliminary results from clinical trials suggest that these agents are very promising. While there were sporadic case reports of activity using the early generation HDIs, dramatic responses have recently been observed in patients with T-cell lymphomas treated with depsipeptide, one of the newer agents. With the well-defined molecular effects on cancer cells, surrogate markers can be analyzed for evidence of activity and efficacy using either tumor samples or normal tissue. Presented in this review are details from clinical trials with both earlier and newer generations of HDIs. Toxicities specific to this class of agents are outlined and possibilities for rational combination therapies are discussed.