To study cellular actin dynamics, a cell-free assay based on fluorescence anisotropy was developed. Using G-actin-Alexa as a probe, we found that anisotropy enhancement reflects F-actin elongation. Anisotropy enhancement varies with the concentration of magnesium and calcium cations and with ethylenediaminetetraacetate or well-known effectors of the polymerization. This assay gives the overall status of actin dynamics in cell extracts which are the closest conditions to in vivo, implying most of the regulating proteins that are missing in purified actin measurements. It can be used in a large-scale screening for chemical compounds which modulate actin polymerization.