To aid in the characterization of the relationship of structure and function for human immunodeficiency virus type-1 reverse transcriptase (HIV-1 RT), this investigation utilized DNAs containing benzo[a]pyrene-7,8-dihydrodiol-9,10-epoxide (BPDE)-modified primers and templates as a probe of the architecture of this complex. BPDE lesions that differed in their stereochemistry around the C10 position were covalently linked to N (6)-adenine and positioned in either the primer or template strand of a duplex template-primer. HIV-1 RT exhibited a stereoisomer-specific and strand-specific difference in replication when the BPDE-lesion was placed in the template versus the primer strand. When the C10 R-BPDE adduct was positioned in the primer strand in duplex DNA, 5 nucleotides from the 3΄ end of the primer terminus, HIV-1 RT could not fully replicate the template, producing truncated products; this block to further synthesis did not affect rates of dissociation or DNA binding affinity. Additionally, when the adducts were in the same relative position, but located in the template strand, similar truncated products were observed with both the C10 R and C10 S BPDE adducts. These data suggest that the presence of covalently-linked intercalative DNA adducts distant from the active site can lead to termination of DNA synthesis catalyzed by HIV-1 RT.