RNA is involved in many biological functions, ranging from information storage and transfer to the catalysis of reactions involving both nucleic acids and proteins. Previous crystallographic studies on RNA oligomeric chains provide only averaged structures or information limited in resolution. The oligomer [U(U-A)6A]2 was chosen for the study of protein-RNA interactions in viruses. Its size and base composition mimic portions of the genomic RNA in alfalfa mosaic virus that bind to the amino terminus of the viral subunit. The actual sequence was designed to guarantee the formation of a single species of duplex and to facilitate the production of the pure oligomer in large quantities. The molecular structure, derived from the 2.25 A resolution X-ray diffraction data, allows the most detailed analysis of an A-RNA helix reported to date. Two kinks are observed that divide the duplex into three blocks, each close to a canonical A-helical conformation. A few intermolecular hydrogen bonds involving 2'-hydroxyl groups stabilize this peculiar conformation of the RNA, which may be related to the temperature used for the crystallization (35 degrees C). The structure demonstrates both the plasticity of the RNA molecule and the role of the 2'-hydroxyl groups in intermolecular interactions.