HDACs (histone deacetylases) 1 and 2 are ubiquitous long-lived proteins, which are often found together in three major multiprotein co-repressor complexes: Sin3, NuRD (nucleosome remodelling and deacetylation) and CoREST (co-repressor for element-1-silencing transcription factor). Although there is a burgeoning number of non-histone proteins within the acetylome, these complexes contain multiple DNA/chromatin-recognition motifs, which, in combination with transcription factors, target HDAC1/2 to chromatin. Their physiological roles should therefore be viewed within the framework of chromatin manipulation. Classically, HDACs were thought to be recruited predominantly by transcriptional repressors to facilitate local histone deacetylation and transcriptional repression. More recently, genome-wide assays have mapped HDAC1/2 and their associated proteins to transcriptionally active loci and have provided alternative context-specific functions, whereby their repressive functions are subtly exerted to balance transcriptional activation and repression. With a few significant exceptions (early embryogenesis, brain development), HDAC1 and HDAC2 are functionally redundant. In most mouse knockout studies, deletion of both enzymes is required in order to produce a substantial phenotype. HDAC1/2 activity has been implicated in the development of numerous tissue and cell types, including heart, skin, brain, B-cells and T-cells. A common feature in all HDAC1/2-knockout, -knockdown and small-molecule inhibitor studies is a reduction in cell proliferation. A generic role in cell cycle progression could be exploited in cancer cells, by blocking HDAC1/2 activity with small-molecule inhibitors, making them potentially useful drug targets.

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