We have examined the effects of three commonly used classes of guanine nucleotide analogues on the retinal G protein, transducin (Gt), and found them to be quite different from those that might be expected from results with other GTP-binding proteins. The most surprising results were with guanosine 5'-O-(2-thiodiphosphate) (GDPbetaS); rather than inhibiting activation of Gt, GDPbetaS addition activated Gt as a result of a trace contaminant. Even when the contaminant levels were reduced 5-fold by chromatography, its effects dominated those of GDPbetaS, which binds Gt at least 1500-fold more weakly than guanosine 5'-O-(3-thiotriphosphate) (GTPgammaS). The affinity of Gt for GDP was found to be at least 300-fold weaker than for GTPgammaS, while the affinities of GTP and GTPgammaS were similar. Ribose-modified GTP analogues, including 2'(3')-O-(N-methylanthraniloyl) GTP (mantGTP), 2'(3')-O-[(2-aminoethyl)carbamyl] GTP (edGTP), and adducts of fluorescein 5-isothiocyanate and rhodamine B-isothiocyanate with edGTP, interacted extremely weakly, if at all, with the GTP binding site of the alpha subunit of Gt. They were neither effective activators of Gt nor effective inhibitors of activation by GTP or GTPgammaS. A gamma-phosphoryl-modified analogue, an adduct of GTPgammaS and (5-(2(iodoacetyl)aminoethyl)amino)naphthalene-1-sulfonic acid (dnsGTP), also activated Gt weakly, if at all, and did not inhibit its activation. The exclusion of these analogues points to the highly restrictive and specific nature of the GTP binding site of Gt, in contrast to those of numerous other GTP-binding proteins which are potently activated or inhibited by these analogues.