During processive DNA synthesis in vitro, the human immunoefficiency virus, type 1 (HIV-1) reverse transcriptase encounters template nucleotide positions at which continued synthesis is difficult. At these positions, the enzyme has a relatively high probability of dissociating from the template, and product molecules of corresponding length accumulate as the incubation proceeds. These positions, which are known as termination sites, could be associated with template secondary structures in some cases, but many termination sites appear to be template sequence-related rather than secondary structure-related. Mechanisms producing these blocks in processive DNA synthesis are not well understood. In this study, to examine further the effects of template sequence on termination, we engineered selected single-base changes in the M13mp2 template, and we found that such changes can influence termination. Several general trends emerged from the study. First, strong termination sites rarely correspond to dATP as the "incoming" substrate opposite template T. Second, the sequence of the template-primer stem is more important for termination than the sequence of the single-stranded template ahead of the primer. Thus, we note the phenomenon of action at a distance: changing sequence at one nucleotide position in the template-primer stem alters termination at other positions, a few nucleotides distant at the primer 3' end. A and C as template bases in the template-primer stem have opposite effects. A is the strongest terminator residue, and C is the weakest terminator residue, followed by G. Since termination sites are produced by reverse transcriptase dissociation from the template-primer, the results suggest that the HIV-1 reverse transcriptase has properties reminiscent of a sequence-specific double-stranded DNA-binding protein in that its binding mechanism can distinguish both base residues and positions in the double-stranded DNA template-primer stem.