The histone H4 lysine 16 (H4K16)-specific acetyltransferase MOF is part of two distinct complexes involved in X chromosome dosage compensation and autosomal transcription regulation. Here we show that the MOF chromobarrel domain is essential for H4K16 acetylation throughout the Drosophila genome and is required for spreading of the male-specific lethal (MSL) complex on the X chromosome. The MOF chromobarrel domain directly interacts with nucleic acids and potentiates MOF's enzymatic activity after chromatin binding, making it a unique example of a chromo-like domain directly controlling acetylation activity in vivo. We also show that the Drosophila-specific N terminus of MOF has evolved to perform sex-specific functions. It modulates nucleosome binding and HAT activity and controls MSL complex assembly, thus regulating MOF function in dosage compensation. We propose that MOF has been especially tailored to achieve tight regulation of its enzymatic activity and enable its dual role on X and autosomes.