Carbonyl compounds with diverse carbon skeletons may be differentially related to the pathogenesis of vascular diseases. In this study, we compared intracellular signals delivered into cultured human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) by glyoxal (GO) and methylglyoxal (MGO), which differ only by a methyl group. Depending on their concentrations, GO and MGO promoted phosphorylations of ERK1 and ERK2, which were blocked by the protein-tyrosine kinase (PTK) inhibitors herbimycin A and staurosporine, thereby being PTK-dependent. GO and MGO also induced phosphorylations of JNK, p38 MAPK, and c-Jun, either PTK-dependently (GO) or -independently (MGO). Next, we found that MGO, but not GO, induced degradation of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) as the intracellular substrate of caspase-3. Curcumin and SB203580, which inhibit JNK and p38 MAPK signaling pathways, but not herbimycin A/staurosporine, prevented the MGO-induced PARP degradation. We then found that MGO, but not GO, reduced the intracellular glutathione level, and that cysteine, but not cystine, inhibited the MGO-mediated activation of ERK, JNK, p38 MAPK, or c-Jun more extensively than did lysine or arginine. In addition, all the signals triggered by GO and MGO were blocked by amino guanidine (AG), which traps carbonyls. These results demonstrated that GO and MGO triggered two distinct signal cascades, one for PTK-dependent control of ERK and another for PTK-independent redox-linked activation of JNK/p38 MAPK and caspases in HUVECs, depending on the structure of the carbon skeleton of the chemicals.