Nucleoside analog chain terminators such as 3'-azido-3'-deoxythymidine (AZT) and 2',3'-dideoxy-3'-thiacytidine (3TC) represent an important class of drugs that are used in the clinic to inhibit the reverse transcriptase (RT) of human immunodeficiency virus type 1. Recent data have suggested that mutant enzymes associated with AZT resistance are capable of removing the chain-terminating residue with much greater efficiency than wild-type RT and this may, in turn, facilitate rescue of DNA synthesis; these experiments were performed using physiological concentrations of pyrophosphate or nucleoside triphosphates, respectively. The present study demonstrates that the M184V mutation, which confers high-level resistance to 3TC, can severely compromise the removal of chain-terminating nucleotides. Pyrophosphorolysis on 3TC-terminated primer strands was not detectable with M184V-containing, as opposed to wild-type, RT, and rescue of AZT-terminated DNA synthesis was significantly decreased with the former enzyme. Thus, mutated RTs associated with resistance to AZT and 3TC possess opposing, and therefore incompatible, phenotypes in this regard. These results are consistent with tissue culture and clinical data showing sustained antiviral effects of AZT in the context of viruses that contain the M184V mutation in the RT-encoding gene.