[ (3)H]CI-994, a radioactive isotopologue of the benzamide CI-994, a class I histone deacetylase inhibitor (HDACi), was evaluated as an autoradiography probe for ex vivo labeling and localizing of class I HDAC (isoforms 1-3) in the rodent brain. After protocol optimization, up to 80% of total binding was attributed to specific binding. Notably, like other benzamide HDACi, [ (3)H]CI-994 exhibits slow binding kinetics when measured in vitro with isolated enzymes and ex vivo when used for autoradiographic mapping of HDAC1-3 density. The regional distribution and density of HDAC1-3 was determined through a series of saturation and kinetics experiments. The binding properties of [ (3)H]CI-994 to HDAC1-3 were characterized and the data were used to determine the regional Bmax of the target proteins. Kd values, determined from slice autoradiography, were between 9.17 and 15.6 nM. The HDAC1-3 density (Bmax), averaged over whole brain sections, was of 12.9 picomol . mg(-1) protein. The highest HDAC1-3 density was found in the cerebellum, followed by hippocampus and cortex. Moderate to low receptor density was found in striatum, hypothalamus and thalamus. These data were correlated with semi-quantitative measures of each HDAC isoform using western blot analysis and it was determined that autoradiographic images most likely represent the sum of HDAC1, HDAC2, and HDAC3 protein density. In competition experiments, [ (3)H]CI-994 binding can be dose-dependently blocked with other HDAC inhibitors, including suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid (SAHA). In summary, we have developed the first known autoradiography tool for imaging class I HDAC enzymes. Although validated in the CNS, [ (3)H]CI-994 will be applicable and beneficial to other target tissues and can be used to evaluate HDAC inhibition in tissues for novel therapies being developed. [ (3)H]CI-994 is now an enabling imaging tool to study the relationship between diseases and epigenetic regulation.