The human small GTPase, RhoA, expressed in Saccharomyces cerevisiae is post-translationally processed and, when co-expressed with its cytosolic inhibitory protein, RhoGDI, spontaneously forms a heterodimer in vivo. The RhoA/RhoGDI complex, purified to greater than 98% at high yield from the yeast cytosolic fraction, could be stoichiometrically ADP-ribosylated by Clostridium botulinum C3 exoenzyme, contained stoichiometric GDP, and could be nucleotide exchanged fully with [3H]GDP or partially with GTP in the presence of submicromolar Mg2+. The GTP-RhoA/RhoGDI complex hydrolyzed GTP with a rate constant of 4.5 X 10(-5) s(-1), considerably slower than free RhoA. Hydrolysis followed pseudo-first-order kinetics indicating that the RhoA hydrolyzing GTP was RhoGDI associated. The constitutively active G14V-RhoA mutant expressed as a complex with RhoGDI and purified without added nucleotide also bound stoichiometric guanine nucleotide: 95% contained GDP and 5% GTP. Microinjection of the GTP-bound G14V-RhoA/RhoGDI complex (but not the GDP form) into serum-starved Swiss 3T3 cells elicited formation of stress fibers and focal adhesions. In vitro, GTP-bound-RhoA spontaneously translocated from its complex with RhoGDI to liposomes, whereas GDP-RhoA did not. These results show that GTP-triggered translocation of RhoA from RhoGDI to a membrane, where it carries out its signaling function, is an intrinsic property of the RhoA/RhoGDI complex that does not require other protein factors or membrane receptors.