Human and rat primary sub-cultured vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) showed clear expression of the death receptors TRAIL-R1 and TRAIL-R2; however, recombinant soluble TRAIL did not induce cell death when added to these cells. TRAIL tended to protect rat VSMCs from apoptosis induced either by inflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor-alpha + interleukin-1beta + interferon-gamma or by prolonged serum withdrawal, and promoted a significant increase in VSMC proliferation and migration. Of note, all the biological effects induced by TRAIL were significantly inhibited by pharmacological inhibitors of the ERK pathway. Western blot analysis consistently showed that TRAIL induced a significant activation of ERK1/2, and a much weaker phosphorylation of Akt, while it did not affect the p38/MAPK pathway. Taken together, these data strengthen the notion that the TRAIL/TRAIL-R system likely plays a role in the biology of the vascular system by affecting the survival, migration and proliferation of VSMCs.