We have examined the ability of the beta gamma subunits of guanine nucleotide binding regulatory proteins (G proteins) to support the pertussis toxin (PT) catalyzed ADP-ribosylation of G protein alpha subunits. Substoichiometric amounts of the beta gamma complex purified from either bovine brain G proteins or the bovine retinal G protein, Gt, are sufficient to support the ADP-ribosylation of the alpha subunits of Gi (the G protein that mediates inhibition of adenylyl cyclase) and Go (a G protein of unknown function) by PT. This observation indicates that ADP-ribosylated G protein oligomers can dissociate into their respective alpha and beta gamma subunits in the absence of activating regulatory ligands, i.e., nonhydrolyzable GTP analogues or fluoride. Additionally, the catalytic support of ADP-ribosylation by bovine brain beta gamma does not require Mg2+. Although the beta gamma subunit complexes purified from bovine brain G proteins and the beta gamma complex of Gt support equally the ADP-ribosylation of alpha subunits by PT, there is a marked difference in their abilities to interact with Gs alpha. The enhancement of deactivation of fluoride-activated Gs alpha requires 25-fold more beta gamma from Gt than from brain G proteins to produce a similar response. This difference in potency of beta gamma complexes from the two sources was also observed in the ability of beta gamma to produce an increase in the activity of recombinant Gs alpha produced in Escherichia coli.