Apoptosis is a physiological cell death process important for normal development and involved in many pathological conditions. In atherosclerosis, pathological accumulation of cells in the intima has been attributed to the migration and proliferation of smooth muscle cells, macrophages, and lymphocytes. In this report, we explored the possibility that apoptosis may also contribute to the pathogenesis of this disease. We examined 35 human atherosclerotic lesion samples and identified a substantial number of cells undergoing apoptosis in 25 of the samples. Furthermore, in a rat vascular injury model, apoptotic cells were specifically identified in the neointima. The presence of apoptotic cells was demonstrated by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP-biotin nick end labeling, nuclear staining with propidium iodide, and electron microscopy. Immunostaining with cell-type-specific markers and subsequent terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP-biotin nick end labeling analysis on the same sample revealed that the majority of the apoptotic cells were modulated smooth muscle cells as well as macrophages. These results indicate that apoptosis occurs in cells of the injured blood vessel as well as the advanced atherosclerotic lesion and that physiological cell death may have an important role in determining the course of atherogenesis.