The human MAT1 gene (ménage à trois 1) is an assembly factor and a targeting subunit of cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK)-activating kinase. The novel mechanisms by which MAT1 forms an active CDK-activating kinase and determines substrate specificity of CDK7-cyclin H are involved in the cell cycle, DNA repair, and transcription. Hyperplasia of vascular smooth muscle cells (SMC) is a fundamental pathologic feature of luminal narrowing in vascular occlusive diseases, and nothing is yet known regarding the cell cycle phase specificity of the MAT1 gene in its involvement in SMC proliferation. To investigate such novel regulatory pathways, MAT1 expression was abrogated by retrovirus-mediated gene transfer of antisense MAT1 RNA in cultured rat aortic SMCs. We show that abrogation of MAT1 expression retards SMC proliferation and inhibits cell activation from a nonproliferative state. Furthermore, we have demonstrated that these effects are due to G1 phase arrest and apoptotic cell death. Our studies indicate a link between cell cycle control and apoptosis and reveal a potential mechanism for coupling the regulation of MAT1 with G1 exit and prevention of apoptosis.