The tumor suppressor gene p53 regulates apoptotic cell death and the cell cycle. In this study, we investigated the role of p53 in nitric oxide (NO)-induced apoptosis in vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs). We found that the NO donor S-nitroso-N-acetylpenicillamine (SNAP) increased apoptotic cell death in p53-deficient VSMCs compared with wild-type cells. The heme oxygenase (HO) inhibitor tin protoporphyrin IX reduced the resistance of wild-type VSMCs to SNAP-induced cell death. SNAP promoted HO-1 expression in both cell types. HO-2 protein was increased only in wild-type VSMCs following SNAP treatment; however, similar levels of HO-2 mRNA were detected in both cell types. SNAP significantly increased the levels of non-heme-iron and dinitrosyl iron-sulfur clusters in wild-type VSMCs compared with p53-deficient VSMCs. Moreover, pretreatment with FeSO4 and the carbon monoxide donor CORM-2, but not biliverdin, significantly protected p53-deficient cells from SNAP-induced cell death compared with normal cells. These results suggest that wild-type VSMCs are more resistant to NO-mediated apoptosis than p53-deficient VSMCs through p53-dependent up-regulation of HO-2.