Cell-substrate adhesion is crucial at various stages of development and for the maintenance of normal tissues. Little is known about the regulation of these adhesive interactions. To investigate the role of GTPases in the control of cell morphology and cell-substrate adhesion we have injected guanine nucleotide analogs into Xenopus XTC fibroblasts. Injection of GTP gamma S inhibited ruffling and increased spreading, suggesting an increase in adhesion. To further investigate this, we made use of GRGDSP, a peptide which inhibits binding of integrins to vitronectin and fibronectin. XTC fibroblasts injected with non-hydrolyzable analogs of GTP took much more time to round up than mock-injected cells in response to treatment with GRGDSP, while GDP beta S-injected cells rounded up in less time than controls. Injection with GTP gamma S did not inhibit cell rounding induced by trypsin however, showing that cell contractility is not significantly affected by the activation of GTPases. These data provide evidence for the existence of a GTPase which can control cell-substrate adhesion from the cytoplasm. Treatment of XTC fibroblasts with the phorbol ester 12-o-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate reduced cell spreading and accelerated cell rounding in response to GRGDSP, which is essentially opposite to the effect exerted by non-hydrolyzable GTP analogs. These results suggest the existence of at least two distinct pathways controlling cell-substrate adhesion in XTC fibroblasts, one depending on a GTPase and another one involving protein kinase C.