Rifampicin is an antibiotic that inhibits the function of RNA polymerase in eubacteria. Mutations affecting the beta subunit of RNA polymerase can confer resistance to rifampicin. A large number of rifampicin-resistant (hereafter called Rifr) mutants have been isolated in Escherichia coli to probe the involvement of RNA polymerase in a variety of physiological processes. We have undertaken a comprehensive analysis of Rifr mutations to identify their structural and functional effects on RNA polymerase. Forty-two Rifr isolates with a variety of phenotypes were mapped to defined intervals within the rpoB gene using a set of deletions of the rpoB gene. The mutations were sequenced. Seventeen mutational alterations affecting 14 amino acid residues were identified. These alleles are located in three distinct clusters in the center of the rpoB gene. We discuss the implications of our results with regards to the structure of the rifampicin binding site.