The 60 kDa molecular chaperones (chaperonins) are high molecular weight protein complexes having a characteristic double-ring toroidal shape; they are thought to aid the folding of denatured or newly synthesized polypeptides. These proteins exist as two functionally similar, but distantly related families, one comprising the bacterial and organellar chaperonins and another (the so-called CCT-TRiC family) including the chaperonins of the archaea and the eukaryotes. Although some evidence exists that the archaeal chaperonins are implicated in protein folding, much remains to be learned about their precise cellular function. In this work, we report that the chaperonin of the thermophilic archaeon Sulfolobus solfataricus is an RNA-binding protein that interacts specifically in vivo with the 16S rRNA and participates in the maturation of its 5' extremity in vitro. We further show that the chaperonin binds RNA as the native heterooligomeric complex and that RNA binding and processing are inhibited by ATP. These results agree with previous reports indicating a role for the bacterial/organellar chaperonins in RNA protection or processing and suggest that all known chaperonin families share specific and evolutionarily ancient functions in RNA metabolism.