rho genes have been found in both lower and higher eucaryotes. They code for proteins of 21 kDa, highly conserved in evolution, which belong to the superfamily of ras GTPases. Among the members of this superfamily there are proteins with a regulatory function, such as ras, and proteins involved in vesicular trafficking, such as the family of rab proteins. We have investigated the putative role of rho proteins from Aplysia californica as transforming GTPases utilizing the wild-type and a Val-14 mutant, equivalent to the oncogenic Val-12 mutation of ras genes found in animal and human tumors. Over-expression of either rho gene was sufficient to confer anchorage- and serum-independent growth. Moreover, when introduced into nude mice, selected clones generated from either gene were able to induce tumors, although those carrying the mutated version were more efficient. Pathological analysis indicated that generated tumors corresponded to well-differentiated fibrosarcomas with distinct and intersecting bundles and spindle cells. By contrast, ras-induced tumors were poorly differentiated fibrosarcomas. Thus, our results indicate that under appropriate conditions rho genes function as oncogenes and may have a role in the regulation of proliferation in fibroblast cells.