Activation of the p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway has been implicated in various detrimental events finally leading to endothelial dysfunction. The present study therefore investigates the impact of the p38 MAPK inhibitor SB202190 on the expression of the cytoprotective enzyme heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) as well as metabolic activity, apoptosis and autophagy of endothelial cells. Using human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) SB202190 was found to cause a time- and concentration-dependent induction of HO-1 protein. Induction of HO-1 protein expression was mimicked by SB203580, another p38 MAPK inhibitor, but not by SB202474, an inactive structural analogue of p38 MAPK inhibitors. HO-1 induction by both SB202190 and SB203580 was also demonstrated by analysis of mRNA expression. On the functional level, SB202190 was shown to increase metabolic activity and autophagy of HUVEC along with diminishing basal apoptosis. Treatment of cells with tin protoporphyrin IX (SnPPIX), a well-characterised HO-1 enzymatic inhibitor, or HO-1 siRNA left SB202190-modulated metabolic activity and autophagy virtually unaltered but caused a significant reversal of the anti-apoptotic action of SB202190. Conversely, however, HO-1 expression by SB202190 became completely suppressed by the autophagy inhibitor bafilomycin A 1. Bafilomycin A 1 likewise fully reversed effects of SB202190 on metabolic activity and apoptosis, albeit significantly inducing apoptosis per se. Collectively, this work demonstrates SB202190 to confer upstream induction of autophagy followed by HO-1 induction resulting in potential protective effects against apoptosis. On the other hand, our data oppose HO-1 to contribute to SB202190-mediated increases in metabolic activity and autophagy, respectively.