Cullin 4 (Cul4), a member of the evolutionally conserved cullin protein family, serves as a scaffold to assemble multisubunit ubiquitin E3 ligase complexes. Cul4 interacts with the Ring finger-containing protein ROC1 through its C-terminal cullin domain and with substrate recruiting subunit(s) through its N-terminus. Previous studies have demonstrated that Cul4 E3 ligase ubiquitylates key regulators in cell cycle control and mediates their degradation through the proteasomal pathway, thus contributing to genome stability. Recent studies from several groups have revealed that Cul4 E3 ligase can target histones for ubiquitylation, and importantly, ubiquitylation of histones may facilitate the cellular response to DNA damage. Therefore, histone ubiquitylation by Cul4 E3 ligase constitutes a novel mechanism through which Cul4 regulates chromatin function and maintains genomic integrity. We outline these studies and suggest that histone ubiquitylation might play important roles in Cul4-regualted chromatin function including the cellular response to DNA damage and heterochromatin gene silencing. © 2006 Dai and Wang; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.