Several specific cell cycle activities are dependent on cell-substratum adhesion in nontransformed cells, and the ability of the Ras oncoprotein to induce anchorage-independent growth is linked to its ability to abrogate this adhesion requirement. Ras signals via multiple down stream elector proteins, a synergistic combination of which may be required for the highly altered phenotype of fully transformed cells. We describe here studies on cell cycle regulation of anchorage-independent growth that utilize Ras effector loop mutants in NIH 3T3 and Rat 6 cells. Stable expression of activated H-Ras (12V) induced soft agar colony formation by both cell types, but each of three effector loop mutants (12V,35S, 12V,37G, and 12V,40C) was defective in producing this response. Expression of all three possible pairwise combinations of these mutants synergized to induce anchorage-independent growth of NIH 3T3 cells, but only the 12V,35S-12V,37G and 12V,37G-12V,40C combinations were complementary in Rat 6 cells. Each individual effector loop mutant partially relieved adhesion dependence of pRB phosphorylation, cyclin E-dependent kinase activity, and expression of cyclin A in NIH 3T3, but not Rat 6, cells. The pairwise combinations of effector loop mutants that were synergistic in producing anchorage-independent growth in Rat 6 cells also led to synergistic abrogation of the adhesion requirement for these cell cycle activities. The relationship between complementation in producing anchorage- independent growth and enhancement of cell cycle activities was not as clear in NIH 3T3 cells that expressed pairs of mutants, implying the existence of either thresholds for these activities or additional requirements in the induction of anchorage-independent growth. Ectopic expression of cyclin D1, E, or A synergized with individual effector loop mutants to induce soft agar colony formation in NIH 3T3 cells, cyclin A being particularly effective. Taken together, these data indicate that Ras utilizes multiple pathways to signal to the cell cycle machinery and that these pathways synergize to supplant the adhesion requirements of specific cell cycle events, leading to anchorage-independent growth.