Isoflavone genistein may have beneficial effects on vascular function, but the mechanism is unclear. Here, we investigated whether genistein protects vascular endothelial cells against apoptosis induced by tumor necrosis factor-α. We show that genistein significantly inhibited TNF-α-induced apoptosis in human aortic endothelial cells as determined by caspase-3 activation, 7-amino actinomycin D staining, in situ apoptotic cell detection and DNA laddering. The anti-apoptotic effect of genistein was associated with an enhanced expression of Bcl-2 protein and its promoter activity. Inhibition of extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2, protein kinase A, or estrogen receptors had no effect on the cytoprotective effect of genistein. However, inhibition of p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (p38) completely abolished this genistein effect. Accordingly, stimulation of HAECs with genistein resulted in rapid activation of p38β, but not p38α. These findings provide the evidence that genistein acts as a survival factor for vascular ECs to protect cells against apoptosis via activation of p38β. Preservation of the functional integrity of the endothelial monolayer may represent an important mechanism by which genistein exerts its vasculoprotective effect.