The N-terminal RNA binding domain (RBD) of the human U1A snRNP protein binds tightly and specifically to an RNA hairpin that contains a 10-nucleotide loop. The protein is one of a class of RNA binding proteins that adopts a beta alpha beta beta alpha beta global fold, which in turn forms a four-stranded antiparallel beta-sheet. This sheet forms the primary binding surface for the RNA, as shown by the crosslinking results described here, and in more detail by a recently described co-crystal of this RBD with an RNA hairpin (Oubridge C, et al., 1994, Nature 372:432-438). The RNA hairpin sequence used in the crosslinking experiments, containing 5-iodo-uridine, is a variant of the normal U1 snRNA sequence which is able to form a crosslink with the protein, in contrast to the wild-type sequence, which does not. This single uridine substitution in the 10-nucleotide loop is the site of cross-linking to one tyrosine (Tyr 13) in the beta 1 strand of the U1A N-terminal RBD. This same uridine is also crosslinked to a mutant Tyr 13 Phe RBD, at this Phe 13 substitution.