Intracellular signaling pathways that are involved in protection of vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC) from apoptosis remain poorly understood. This study examines the effect of activators of cAMP/cGMP signaling on apoptosis in non-transfected VSMC and in VSMC transfected with c-myc (VSMC-MYC) or with its functional analogue, E1A-adenoviral protein (VSMC-E1A). Serum-deprived VSMC-E1A exhibited the highest apoptosis measured as the content of chromatin and low molecular weight DNA fragments, phosphatidylserine content in the outer surface of plasma membrane and caspase-3 activity (ten-, five-, four- and tenfold increase after 6 h of serum withdrawal, respectively). In VSMC-E1A, the addition of an activator of adenylate cyclase, forskolin, abolished chromatin cleavage, DNA laddering, caspase-3 activation and the appearance of morphologically-defined apoptotic cells triggered by 6 h of serum deprivation. In non-transfected VSMC and in VSMC-MYC, 6 h serum deprivation led to ∼six- and threefold activation of chromatin cleavage, respectively, that was also blocked by forskolin. In VSMC-E1A, inhibition of apoptosis was observed with other activators of cAMP signaling (cholera toxin, isoproterenol, adenosine, 8-Br-cAMP), whereas 6 h incubation with modulators of cGMP signaling (8-Br-cGMP, nitroprusside, atrial natriuretic peptide, L-NAME) did not affect the development of apoptotic machinery. The antiapoptotic effect of forskolin was abolished in 24 h of serum deprivation that was accompanied by normalization of intracellular cAMP content and protein kinase A (PKA) activity. Protection of VSMC-E1A from apoptosis by forskolin was blunted by PKA inhibitors (H-89 and KT5720), whereas transfection of cells with PKA catalytic subunit attenuated apoptosis triggered by serum withdrawal. The protection of VSMC-E1A by forskolin from apoptosis was insensitive to modulators of cytoskeleton assembly (cytochalasin B, colchicine). Neither acute (30 min) nor chronic (24 h) exposure of VSMC to forskolin modified basal and serum-induced phosphorylation of the MAP kinase ERK1/2. Thus, our results show that activation of cAMP signaling delays the development of apoptosis in serum-deprived VSMC at a site upstream of caspase-3 via activation of PKA and independently of cAMP-induced reorganization of the cytoskeleton network and the ERK1/2-terminated MAPK signaling cascade.