Acetylated histones are generally associated with active chromatin. The bromodomain has recently been identified as a protein module capable of binding to acetylated lysine residues, and hence is able to mediate the recruitment of factors to acetylated chromatin. Functional studies of bromodomain-containing proteins indicate how this domain contributes to the activity of a number of nuclear factors including histone acetyltransferases and chromatin remodelling complexes. Here, we review the characteristics of acetyllysine-binding by bromodomains, discuss associated domains found in these proteins, and address the function of the bromodomain in the context of chromatin. Finally, the modulation of bromodomain binding by neighbouring post-translational modifications within histone tails might provide a mechanism through which combinations of covalent marks could exert control on chromatin function.