Despite its importance for group II intron catalytic activity, structural information on conserved domain 3 (D3) is extremely limited. This domain is known to specifically stimulate the chemical rate of catalysis and to function as a 'catalytic effector'. Of all the long-range tertiary contacts that have been identified within group II introns, none has included D3 residues. Furthermore, little is known about the atoms and functional groups in D3 that contribute to catalysis. Using a nucleotide analog interference mapping assay with an extended repertoire of nucleotide analogs, we have identified functional groups in D3 that are critical for ribozyme activity. These data, together with mutational analysis, suggest the formation of noncanonical base pairs within the phylogenetically conserved internal loop at the base of D3. Finally, a related nucleotide analog interference suppression study resulted in the identification of a direct tertiary interaction between D3 and catalytic domain 5, which sheds new light on D3 function in the group II intron structure and mechanism.