The reverse transcriptase (RT) of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) has only 2 cysteine residues at positions 38 and 280. In order to investigate the role of these cysteines in the structure and function of the enzyme, we have previously modified each of the cysteines to serines employing site-directed mutagenesis. Two of the mutant forms of HIV-1 RT, the single mutant of cysteine 280 and a double mutant with both cysteines modified, were purified. In the present study we have compared the catalytic properties of the DNA-polymerizing and the ribonuclease H (RNase H) functions of the two mutant RTs to those of the native enzyme. The results indicate that the single mutant RT closely resembles the wild type enzyme in almost all the catalytic functions tested. The double cysteine mutant RT, on the other hand, exhibits several unique features. First, the specific activities of the RNA- and DNA-directed DNA synthesis are significantly lower than the corresponding activities of the other two enzymes. This probably results from the lower Vmax values exhibited by the double mutant RT, since the Km values calculated for all enzymes were similar. Second, the most outstanding differences are associated with the RNase H activity of the double mutant RT. The specific activity of RNase H is about 4-fold higher than the wild type and the single mutant RTs. Furthermore, the heat stability of the RNase H function of the double mutated RT is at least 15-fold higher than that of the other two RTs. The substantial resistance to heat denaturation is apparent only for the RNase H activity, since the DNA polymerizing function of the double mutant RT is as sensitive to heat denaturation as the other two proteins.