Smooth muscle cells build up the media of mammalian arteries and constitute one of the principal cell types in atherosclerotic and restenotic lesions. Accordingly, they show a high degree of plasticity and are able to shift from a differentiated, contractile phenotype to a less differentiated, synthetic phenotype, and then back again. This modulation occurs as a response to vascular injury and includes a prominent structural reorganization with loss of myofilaments and formation of an extensive endoplasmic reticulum and a large Golgi complex. At the same time, the expression of cytoskeletal proteins and other gene products is altered. As a result, the cells lose their contractility and become able to migrate from the media to the intima, proliferate, and secrete extracellular matrix components, thereby contributing to the formation of intimal thickenings. The mechanisms behind this change in morphology and function of the smooth muscle cells are still incompletely understood. A crucial role has been ascribed to basement membrane proteins such as laminin and collagen type IV and adhesive proteins such as fibronectin. A significant role is also played by mitogenic proteins such as platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) and basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF). An improved knowledge of the regulation of smooth muscle differentiated properties represents an important part in the search for new methods of prevention and treatment of vascular disease.