Human immunodeficiency virus reverse transcriptase.RNase H (RT.RNase H) has an RNA hydrolysis specificity which was influenced both by the sequence of the DNA primer-RNA template and by binding of the polymerase active site to the primer 3' terminus. RT.RNase H selectively hydrolyzed the phosphodiester bond between the 15th and 16th ribonucleotide back from the ribonucleotide that is complementary to the primer 3'-terminal deoxynucleotide. The cleavage site for RT.RNase H remained a fixed distance behind the 3'-primer terminus as the polymerase extended the primer. This cleavage was not strongly affected by the position of the DNA primer on the template nor was it affected by reducing the primer length from 40 to 25 nucleotides. These results suggest that the distance between the RNase H and polymerase active sites corresponds to the length of a 15-16-nucleotide DNA-RNA heteroduplex. Since one helical turn is approximately 10 nucleotides, the distance between the active sites is 1.5 helical turns of heteroduplex. Therefore, the two active sites (catalyzing reactions on opposite strands) bind the same side of the RNA-DNA double helix. RT.RNase H also showed some sequence dependence for the site of hydrolysis. This sequence dependence has not been fully characterized. The rate of RT.RNase H cleavage was weakly inhibited by the next coded deoxynucleoside triphosphate following the incorporation of a dideoxynucleotide.