Many of the signaling events in VSMC stimulated by angiotensin II (AngII) are mediated by members of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) family, including p38 MAPK. The role of p38 MAPK in AngII-mediated cell cycle regulation is poorly understood. Therefore, we examined the involvement of p38 MAPK signaling in AngII-stimulated DNA synthesis, phosphorylation of the retinoblastoma protein (Rb), and expression of the G1-phase cyclin D1 in human coronary artery smooth muscle cells (CASMC). AngII (1 microM) stimulated p38 MAPK and ERK1/2 activation. Pretreatment with the p38 MAPK inhibitors SB203580 (10 microM) (SB) or SKF-86002 (10 microM) (SKF) potently inhibited AngII-induced p38 MAPK activation, but enhanced AngII-mediated ERK1/2 activation. AngII-induced-phosphorylation of Rb (Ser 795 and Ser 807/811), -cyclin D1 expression, and -DNA synthesis was also markedly enhanced by pharmacological inhibition of the p38 MAPK pathway. The present study demonstrates that p38 MAPK negatively regulates AngII-induced ERK1/2 activity, Rb phosphorylation, cyclin D1 expression, and DNA-synthesis in human CASMC. These findings support an important role for p38 MAPK in modulating AngII-mediated VSMC hyperplasia.