Arteriosclerosis, a paradigmatic age-related disease, encompasses (spontaneous) atherosclerosis, restenosis after percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty, autologous arterial or vein graft arteriosclerosis and transplant arteriosclerosis. In all types of arteriosclerosis, vascular smooth muscle cell (SMC) accumulation in the intima is a key event, but abundant evidence also indicates the importance of SMC apoptosis in the development of arteriosclerosis. Because SMC proliferation and apoptosis coincide in arteriosclerotic lesions, the balance between these two processes could be a determinant during vessel remodeling and disease development. Various stimuli, including oxidized lipoproteins, altered hemodynamic stress and free radicals, can induce SMC apoptosis in vitro. As risk factors for arteriosclerosis, these stimuli may also lead to vascular cell apoptosis in vivo. The presence of apoptotic cells in atherosclerotic and restenotic lesions could have potential clinical implications for atherogenesis and contributes to the instability of the lesion. Based on the progress in this field, this review focuses on the mechanism and impact of SMC apoptosis in the pathogenesis of arteriosclerosis and highlights the role of biomechanical stress in SMC apoptosis.