Methylglyoxal (MGO), a highly reactive dicarbonyl compound, is mainly formed as a byproduct of glycolysis. Elevated MGO level is known to induce apoptosis of vascular endothelial cells, which is implicated with progression of atherosclerosis and diabetic complications. However, the underlying mechanisms have not been exhaustively investigated yet. Here, we further characterized the mechanisms how MGO induced apoptosis in human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs). Our data revealed that cytosolic phospholipase A2 (cPLA2) played an important role in MGO-induced cell apoptosis. It was found that MGO could increase both the activity and expression of cPLA2. Inhibition of cPLA2 by Pyrrophenone (PYR) or siRNA significantly attenuated the MGO-induced apoptosis. Additionally, MGO time-dependently decreased the phosphorylation of nuclear factor κB (NF-κB). Pretreatment of the cells with NF-κB inhibitor, BAY11–7082, further increased MGO-induced apoptosis of HUVECs, indicating that NF-κB played a survival role in this MGO-induced apoptosis. Furthermore, in the presence of si-cPLA2 or PYR, MGO no longer decreased NF-κB phosphorylation. Beyond that, the antioxidant N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) could reverse the changes of both cPLA2 and NF-κB caused by MGO. p38, the upstream of cPLA2, was also significantly phosphorylated by MGO. However, p38 inhibitor failed to reverse the apoptosis induced by MGO. This study gives an important insight into the downstream signaling mechanisms of MGO, cPLA2-NF-κB, in endothelial apoptosis.