"BcgI cassette" mutagenesis was used to prepare variants of p66 human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-1 reverse transcriptase with amino acid substitutions between residues Glu224 and Trp229. Mutant polypeptides were reconstituted in vitro with wild type p51 to generate the "selectively mutated" heterodimer series p66(224A)/p51-p66(229A)/p51. Purified enzymes were characterized with respect to dimerization, DNA polymerase, RNase H, and tRNA(Lys-3) binding. The combined analyses indicate that while alteration of p66 residues Glu224-Leu228 has minimal consequences, the DNA polymerase activities of mutant p66(229A)/p51 are impaired. DNase I footprinting illustrates that this mutant does not form a stable replication complex with a model template-primer. In vivo studies indicate that the equivalent mutation eliminates viral infectivity, suggesting a contribution of Trp229 toward architecture of the p66 primer grip.