Histone deacetylases (Hdacs) are transcriptional repressors with crucial roles in mammalian development. Here we provide evidence that Hdac8 specifically controls patterning of the skull by repressing a subset of transcription factors in cranial neural crest cells. Global deletion of Hdac8 in mice leads to perinatal lethality due to skull instability, and this is phenocopied by conditional deletion of Hdac8 in cranial neural crest cells. Hdac8 specifically represses the aberrant expression of homeobox transcription factors such as Otx2 and Lhx1. These findings reveal how the identity and patterning of vertebrate-specific portions of the skull are epigenetically controlled by a histone deacetylase.
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