Aminoglycoside antibiotics specifically interact with a variety of RNA sequences, and in particular with the decoding region of 16S ribosomal RNA in the aminoacyl tRNA acceptor site (A-site). Ring II of aminoglycosides (2-deoxystreptamine) is the most conserved element among aminoglycoside antibiotics that bind to the A-site. NMR structures of aminoglycoside-A-site RNA complexes suggested that the 2-deoxystreptamine core of aminoglycosides specifically recognizes (5')G-U(3') and potentially (5')G-G(3') or (5')U-G(3') steps in the major groove of RNA. Here, we show that isolated deoxystreptamine specifically interacts with G-U steps within the major groove of the A-site RNA. The bulge residue of A-site RNA is required to open the major groove for accommodation of deoxystreptamine. The chemical groups of deoxystreptamine presented to the RNA by the framework of the 6-carbon ring modulate RNA recognition.