A lysine-to-arginine substitution at amino acid 65 (K65R) in human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) reverse transcriptase (RT) is associated with resistance to 2',3'-dideoxycytidine (ddC), 2',3'-dideoxyinosine (ddI), and the (-) enantiomer of 2',3'-dideoxy-3'-thiacytidine (3TC). To further characterize the molecular basis of such resistance, we expressed the pp6/p51 heterodimer of wild-type RT, K65R mutated RT, and a doubly mutated (K65R/M184V) RT in Escherichia coli and assessed the characteristics of nucleotide incorporation and chain termination in cell-free reverse transcription reactions in the presence and absence of various nucleoside triphosphate analogs. These reactions employed a HIV RNA template (HIV-PBS) that contained the primer binding sequence (PBS) and the U5 and R regions of HIV-1 genomic RNA and an oligodeoxynucleotide (dPR) complementary to the HIV-1 PBS as primer. The K65R and K65R/M184V RTs showed significantly decreased chain-termination effects during polymerization with the 5'-triphosphates of ddC, 3TC, 2',3'-dideoxyadenosine, and AZT (3'-azido-3'-deoxythymidine) in comparison with wild-type RT. Detailed analysis with ddCTP and wild-type RT revealed that chain termination occurred at all guanines in the RNA template. However, the frequency of dideoxynucleoside triphosphate (ddNTP)-induced chain termination was decreased at certain guanines but not others in reactions catalyzed by K65R RT. Both the K65R mutant RT and wild-type RT had similar processive activity. These results indicate that decreased chain termination of K65R RT in the presence of ddNTPs is consistent with data obtained in viral replication assays.