Background Histone deacetylases (HDACs) are enzymes that modulate gene expression and cellular processes by deacetylating histones and non-histone proteins. While small molecule inhibitors of HDAC activity (HDACi) are used clinically in the treatment of cancer, pre-clinical treatment models suggest they also exert neuroprotective effects and stimulate neurogenesis in neuropathological conditions. However, the direct effects of HDACi on cell cycle progression and proliferation, two properties required for continued neurogenesis, have not been fully characterized in adult neural stem cells (NSCs). In this study, we examined the effects of two broad class I and class II HDACi on adult mouse NSCs, the hydroxamate-based HDACi suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid (vorinostat, SAHA) and the short chain fatty acid HDACi sodium butyrate. Results We show that both HDACi suppress the formation of neurospheres by adult mouse NSCs grown in proliferation culture conditions in vitro. DNA synthesis is significantly inhibited in adult mouse NSCs exposed to either SAHA or sodium butyrate and inhibition is associated with an arrest in the G1 phase of the cell cycle. HDACi exposure also resulted in transcriptional changes in adult mouse NSCs. Cdk inhibitor genes p21 and p27 transcript levels are increased and associated with elevated H3K9 acetylation levels at proximal promoter regions of p21 and p27. mRNA levels for notch effector Hes genes and Spry-box stem cell transcription factors are downregulated, whereas pro-neural transcription factors Neurog1 and Neurod1 are upregulated. Lastly, we show HDAC inhibition under proliferation culture conditions leads to long-term changes in cell fate in adult mouse NSCs induced to differentiate in vitro. Conclusion SAHA and sodium butyrate directly regulate cdk inhibitor transcription to control cell cycle progression in adult mouse NSCs. HDAC inhibition results in G1 arrest in adult mouse NSCs and transcriptional changes associated with activation of neuronal lineage commitment programs and a reduction of stem/progenitor state. Changes in differentiated cell state in adult mouse NSCs treated with HDACi under proliferation culture conditions suggests an intrinsic relationship between multipotency, cell cycle progression and HDAC activity in these cells.