Autophagy genes were first identified in the yeast system and some of their mammalian orthologues have also been characterized. Increasing lines of evidence indicate that various intracellular proteins, including G proteins, mammalian target of rapamycin (mTor) and Pl3K/Akt/PKB, of transmembrane signaling pathways are involved in the regulation of autophagy genes. We have recently discovered autophagy as a mechanism of cell death in atherosclerotic vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs). Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), and 7-ketocholesterol can regulate the expression of autophagic genes, including microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain-3 (MAP1LC3) and Beclin 1, through Akt/PKB and c-jun N-terminal signal pathways in VSMCs. However, the balance between cell death and survival of VSMCs in the fibrous cap of atherosclerotic plaques appears to best correlate with plaque instability. Understanding the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms of autophagy can provide key insights into the cell death machinery of atherosclerotic diseases.