Interspecies somatic cell nuclear transfer (iSCNT), a powerful tool in basic scientific research, has been used widely to increase and preserve the population of endangered species. Yak (Bos grunniens) is one of these species. Development to term of interspecies cloned yak embryos has not been achieved, possibly due to abnormal epigenetic reprogramming. Previous studies have demonstrated that treatment of intraspecies cloned embryos with (NaBu) significantly improves nuclear–cytoplasmic reprogramming and viability in vitro. Therefore, in this study, we evaluated the effect of optimal NaBu concentration and exposure time on preimplantation development of yak iSCNT embryos and on the expression patterns of developmentally important genes. The results showed that 8-cell rate, blastocyst formation rate and total cell number increased significantly compared with their untreated counterparts when yak iSCNT embryos were treated with 5 nM NaBu for 12 h after activation, but that the 2-cell stage embryo rate was not significantly different. The treatment of NaBu also increased significantly the expression levels of Oct-4 and decreased the expression levels of HDAC-2, Dnmt-1 and IGF-1; the expression patterns of these genes were more similar to that of their bovine–yak in vitro fertilization (BY-IVF) counterparts. The results described above indicated that NaBu treatment improved developmental competence in vitro and ‘corrected’ the gene expression patterns of yak iSCNT embryos.