Histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi) induce growth arrest and apoptosis in colon cancer cells and are being considered for colon cancer therapy. The underlying mechanism of action of these effects is poorly defined with both transcription-dependent and -independent mechanisms implicated. We screened a panel of 30 colon cancer cell lines for sensitivity to HDACi-induced apoptosis and correlated the differences with gene expression patterns induced by HDACi in the five most sensitive and resistant lines. A robust and reproducible transcriptional response involving coordinate induction of multiple immediate-early (fos, jun, egr1, egr3, atf3, arc, nr4a1) and stress response genes (Ndrg4, Mt1B, Mt1E, Mt1F, Mt1H) was selectively induced in HDACi sensitive cells. Notably, a significant percentage of these genes were basally repressed in colon tumors. Bioinformatics analysis revealed that the promoter regions of the HDACi-induced genes were enriched for KLF4/Sp1/Sp3 transcription factor binding sites. Altering KLF4 levels failed to modulate apoptosis or transcriptional responses to HDACi treatment. In contrast, HDACi preferentially stimulated the activity of Spl/Sp3 and blocking their action attenuated both the transcriptional and apoptotic responses to HDACi treatment. Our findings link HDACi-induced apoptosis to activation of a Spl/Sp3-mediated response that involves derepression of a transcriptional network basally repressed in colon cancer.