Histone deacetylase (HDAC) 6 is the best-characterized class IIb deacetylase that regulates many important biological processes via the formation of complexes with its partner proteins. HDAC6 is important both for cytoplasmic and nuclear functions. Unlike other deacetylases, HDAC6 has unique substrate specificity for nonhistone proteins. Such diverse functions of HDAC6 suggest that it serves a potential therapeutic target for the treatment of a wide range of diseases. This therapeutic interest in HDAC6 stems from the observation that HDAC6 may be overexpressed or deregulated in various cancers, neurodegenerative diseases and inflammatory disorders. Despite extensive efforts, however, very few HDAC6-selective inhibitors have been identified and the precise structural determinants remain undefined. Future efforts aiming to better define the structure and function of HDAC6 should provide the basis for the discovery of novel effective inhibitors. In this review, we focus on recent studies that highlight the importance of HDAC6-mediated biological processes, disease mechanisms and HDAC6-selective inhibitors.