The codon-anticodon interaction on the ribosome occurs in the A site of the 30 S subunit. Aminoglycoside antibiotics, which bind to ribosomal RNA in the A site, cause misreading of the genetic code and inhibit translocation. Biochemical studies and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy were used to characterize the interaction between the aminoglycoside antibiotic paromomycin and a small model oligonucleotide that mimics the A site of Escherichia coli 16 S ribosomal RNA. Upon chemical modification, the RNA oligonucleotide exhibits an accessibility pattern similar to that of 16 S rRNA in the 30 S subunit. In addition, the oligonucleotide binds specifically aminoglycoside antibiotics. The antibiotic binding site forms an asymmetric internal loop, caused by non-canonical base-pairs. Nucleotides that are important for binding of paromomycin were identified by performing quantitative footprinting on oligonucleotide sequence variants and include the C1407.G1494 base-pair, and A.U base-pair at positions 1410/1490, and nucleotides A1408, A1493 and U1495. The asymmetry of the internal loop, which requires the presence of a nucleotide in position 1492, is also crucial for antibiotic binding. Introduction into the oligonucleotide of base changes that are known to confer aminoglycoside resistance in 16 S rRNA result in weaker binding of paromomycin to the oligonucleotide. Oligonucleotides homologous to eukaryotic rRNA sequences show reduced binding of paromomycin, suggesting a physical origin for the species-specific action of aminoglycosides.