The internal control region of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae 5S rRNA gene has been characterized in vivo by genomic DNase I footprinting and by mutational analyses using base substitutions, deletions or insertions. A high copy shuttle vector was used to efficiently express mutant 5S rRNA genes in vivo and isotope labelling kinetics were used to distinguish impeded gene expression from nascent RNA degradation. In contrast to mutational studies in reconstituted systems, the analyses describe promoter elements which closely resemble the three distinct sequence elements that have been observed in Xenopus laevis 5S rRNA. The results indicate a more highly conserved structure than previously reported with reconstituted systems and suggest that the saturated conditions which are used in reconstitution studies mask sequence dependence which may be physiologically significant. Footprint analyses support the extended region of protein interaction which has recently been observed In some reconstituted systems, but mutational analyses indicate that these Interactions are not sequence specific. Periodicity in the footprint provides further detail regarding the In vivo topology of the interacting protein.