The hammerhead ribozyme is generally accepted as a well characterized metalloenzyme. However, the precise nature of the interactions of the RNA with metal ions remains to be fully defined. Examination of metal ion-catalyzed hammerhead reactions at limited concentrations of metal ions is useful for evaluation of the role of metal ions, as demonstrated in this study. At concentrations of Mn2+ ions from 0.3 to 3 mM, addition of the ribozyme to the reaction mixture under single-turnover conditions enhances the reaction with the product reaching a fixed maximum level. Further addition of the ribozyme inhibits the reaction, demonstrating that a certain number of divalent metal ions is required for proper folding and also for catalysis. At extremely high concentrations, monovalent ions, such as Na+ ions, can also serve as cofactors in hammerhead ribozyme-catalyzed reactions. However, the catalytic efficiency of monovalent ions is extremely low and, thus, high concentrations are required. Furthermore, addition of monovalent ions to divalent metal ion-catalyzed hammerhead reactions inhibits the divalent metal ion-catalyzed reactions, suggesting that the more desirable divalent metal ion-ribozyme complexes are converted to less desirable monovalent metal ion-ribozyme complexes via removal of divalent metal ions, which serve as a structural support in the ribozyme complex. Even though two channels appear to exist, namely an efficient divalent metal ion-catalyzed channel and an inefficient monovalent metal ion-catalyzed channel, it is clear that, under physiological conditions, hammerhead ribozymes are metalloenzymes that act via the significantly more efficient divalent metal ion-dependent channel. Moreover, the observed kinetic data are consistent with Lilley's and DeRose's two-phase folding model that was based on ground state structure analyses.