The ErmE methyltransferase from the erythromycin-producing actinomycete Saccharopolyspora erythraea dimethylates the N-6 position of adenine 2058 in domain V of 23S rRNA. This modification confers resistance to erythromycin and to other macrolide, lincosamide, and streptogramin B antibiotics. We investigated what structural elements in 23S rRNA are required for specific recognition by the ErmE methyltransferase. The ermE gene was cloned into R1 plasmid derivatives, providing a means of inducible expression in Escherichia coli. Expression of the methyltransferase in vivo confers resistance to erythromycin and clindamycin. The degree of resistance corresponds to the level of ermE expression. In turn, ermE expression also correlates with the proportion of 23S rRNA molecules that are dimethylated at adenine 2058. The methyltransferase was isolated in an active, concentrated form from E. coli, and the enzyme efficiently modifies 23S rRNA in vitro. Removal of most of the 23S rRNA structure, so that only domain V (nucleotides 2000 to 2624) remains, does not affect the efficiency of modification by the methyltransferase. In addition, modification still occurs after the rRNA tertiary structure has been disrupted by removal of magnesium ions. We conclude that the main features that are specifically recognized by the ErmE methyltransferase are displayed within the primary and secondary structures of 23S rRNA domain V.