Senescence of smooth muscle cells (SMCs) has a crucial role in the pathogenesis of abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), a disease of vascular degeneration. Perturbation of cellular ribosomal DNA (rDNA) transcription triggers nucleolar stress response. Previously we demonstrated that induction of nucleolar stress in SMCs elicited cell cycle arrest via the ataxia-telangiectasia mutated (ATM)/ATM- and Rad3-related (ATR)-p53 axis. However, the specific roles of nucleolar stress in vascular degeneration remain unexplored. In the present study, we demonstrated for the first time that in both human and animal AAA tissues, there were non-coordinated changes in the expression of RNA polymerase I machinery components, including a downregulation of transcription initiation factor-IA (TIF-IA). Genetic deletion of TIF-IA in SMCs in mice (smTIF-IA-/-) caused spontaneous aneurysm-like lesions in the aorta. In vitro, induction of nucleolar stress triggered a non-canonical DNA damage response, leading to p53 phosphorylation and a senescence-like phenotype in SMCs. In human AAA tissues, there was increased nucleolar stress in medial cells, accompanied by localized DNA damage response within the nucleolar compartment. Our data suggest that perturbed rDNA transcription and induction of nucleolar stress contribute to the pathogenesis of AAA. Moreover, smTIF-IA-/- mice may be a novel animal model for studying spontaneous AAA-like vascular degenerations.