Soluble factors from serum such as lysophosphatidic acid (LPA) are thought to activate the small GTP-binding protein Rho based on their ability to induce actin stress fibers and focal adhesions in a Rho-dependent manner. Cell adhesion to extracellular matrices (ECM) has also been proposed to activate Rho, but this point has been controversial due to the difficulty of distinguishing changes in Rho activity from the structural contributions of ECM to the formation of focal adhesions. To address these questions, we established an assay for GTP-bound cellular Rho. Plating Swiss 3T3 cells on fibronectin-coated dishes elicited a transient inhibition of Rho, followed by a phase of Rho activation. The activation phase was greatly enhanced by serum. In serum-starved adherent cells, LPA induced transient Rho activation, whereas in suspended cells Rho activation was sustained. Furthermore, suspended cells showed higher Rho activity than adherent cells in the presence of serum. These data indicate the existence of an adhesion-dependent negative-feedback loop. We also observed that both cytochalasin D and colchicine trigger Rho activation despite their opposite effects on stress fibers and focal adhesions. Our results show that ECM, cytoskeletal structures and soluble factors all contribute to regulation of Rho activity.