BackgroundHistone deacetylase-3 (HDAC3) promotes neurodegeneration in various cell culture and in vivo models of neurodegeneration but the mechanism by which HDAC3 exerts neurotoxicity is not known. HDAC3 is known to be a transcriptional co-repressor. The goal of this study was to identify transcriptional targets of HDAC3 in an attempt to understand how it promotes neurodegeneration.ResultsWe used chromatin immunoprecipitation analysis coupled with deep sequencing (ChIP-Seq) to identify potential targets of HDAC3 in cerebellar granule neurons. One of the genes identified was the activity-dependent and neuroprotective transcription factor, Neuronal PAS Domain Protein 4 (Npas4). We confirmed using ChIP that in healthy neurons HDAC3 associates weakly with the Npas4 promoter, however, this association is robustly increased in neurons primed to die. We find that HDAC3 also associates differentially with the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (Bdnf) gene promoter, with higher association in dying neurons. In contrast, association of HDAC3 with the promoters of other neuroprotective genes, including those encoding c-Fos, FoxP1 and Stat3, was barely detectable in both healthy and dying neurons. Overexpression of HDAC3 leads to a suppression of Npas4 and Bdnf expression in cortical neurons and treatment with RGFP966, a chemical inhibitor of HDAC3, resulted in upregulation of their expression. Expression of HDAC3 also repressed Npas4 and Bdnf promoter activity.ConclusionOur results suggest that Bdnf and Npas4 are transcriptional targets of Hdac3-mediated repression. HDAC3 inhibitors have been shown to protect against behavioral deficits and neuronal loss in mouse models of neurodegeneration and it is possible that these inhibitors work by upregulating neuroprotective genes like Bdnf and Npas4.