The origin of vascular smooth muscle cells that accumulate in the neointima in vascular diseases such as transplant arteriosclerosis, atherosclerosis and restenosis remains subject to much debate. Smooth muscle cells are a highly heterogeneous cell population with different characteristics and markers, and distinct phenotypes in physiological and pathological conditions. Several studies have reported a role for bone marrow-derived progenitor cells in vascular maintenance and repair. Moreover, bone marrow-derived smooth muscle progenitor cells have been detected in human atherosclerotic tissue as well as in in vivo mouse models of vascular disease. However, it is not clear whether smooth muscle progenitor cells can be regarded as a ‘friend’ or ‘foe’ in neointima formation. In this review we will discuss the heterogeneity of smooth muscle cells, the role of smooth muscle progenitor cells in vascular disease, potential mechanisms that could regulate smooth muscle progenitor cell contribution and the implications this may have on designing novel therapeutic tools to prevent development and progression of vascular disease.