GTP and GTP analogs produced significant (up to 17-fold) and persistent activation of adenylate cyclase in lysates of Dictyostelium discoideum amoeba. The activation was enhanced 2- to 4-fold by cAMP (the agonist for receptor-mediated adenylate cyclase activation), was specific for guanine nucleoside triphosphates, and was inhibited by guanosine 5'-(O-2-thio)diphosphate. The order of potency of guanine nucleotides was guanosine 5'-(O-3-thio)triphosphate > guanyl-5'-yl imidodiphosphate > GTP; half-maximal activation was observed with 1-10 μM guanine nucleotide. Maximal activation occurred when the guanine nucleotide was added within seconds after cell lysis and the lysate was preincubated for 5 min prior to assay. Under these optimal in vitro conditions, the capacity of guanine nucleotides to activate decreased, closely correlating with adaptation or desensitization induced by exposure of intact cells to cAMP during a period of 10 min. These data strongly support that regulation of adenylate cyclase is Dictyostelium occurs via a receptor-linked GTP/GDP exchange protein. Two mutants, designed synag 7 and 49 were isolated in which cAMP and/or guanine nucleotides were not sufficient to activate adenylate cyclase. The wild-type pattern of guanine nucleotide regulation was restored to synag 7 lysates by the addition of a high-speed supernatant from wild-type cells. Characterization of these mutants demonstrates that activation of adenylate cyclase is not required for growth or cell-type specific differentiation but is essential for cellular aggregation and influences morphogenesis and pattern formation. This suggests that Dictyostelium may provide a model suitable for detailed genetic analysis of surface receptor-guanine nucleotide-binding regulatory protein linked adenylate cyclase systems and for determining the role of these systems in development.