We mapped 359 mutations at 25 positions in synthetic variants of the antigenomic ribozyme of the hepatitis delta agent by analyzing the sequences of 188 cDNA clones. These data were used to identify three features of the ribozyme: highly conserved nucleotides, positions with restricted nucleotide substitutions and three-dimensional relationships between nucleotides. The distribution of mutations at the 25 positions was as follows: G-11 (the eleventh nucleotide from the cleavage site) was mutated in 56 clones; G-12 in 36; U-15 in 33; C-13 in 26; G-28 in 23; C-27 in 21; C-29 in 19; U-26 in 17; C-18 in 14; A-14 in 13; C-16 in 13; C-19 in 12; U-17 in 11; A-20 in 10; G-42 in 9; G-40 in 7; G-41 in 7; C-24 in 6; U-32 in 6; U-23 in 5; C-25 in 4; C-21 in 3; G-30 in 3; G-31 in 3; C-22 in 1. All clones containing a mutation at C-25 had an A at this position, suggesting that the extra cyclic amino group present in adenine and cytosine may function during the cleavage event. Mutations at certain positions were common in simple clones (containing only one or two mutations), while mutations at other positions were over-represented in more complex clones. Both compensatory base changes and co-mutational frequencies were used to identify eight pairs of nucleotides which may interact with each other: G-11 and C-18, G-12 and C-27, C-13 and G-28, C-21 and U-23/C-24, C-21 and G-30, U-23 and G-31/U-32, C24 and G-30, C-27 and G-42. These pairs, which involve some of the most conserved positions in the molecule, suggest interactions among nucleotides previously depicted in open-loop structures. The newly proposed points of contact between pairs of nucleotides are compatible with both the axehead and pseudoknot secondary structural models and were combined with previously proposed Watson-Crick base paired helices to produce two three dimensional models. In both of these, C-25 and C-76 are placed near the cleavage site.