A molecular clone containing the wild-type reverse transcriptase (RT) coding region of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) was constructed, and site-directed mutagenesis was used to introduce mutations--Leu74-->Val (L74V), T215Y, and the combination L74V/T215Y--into the RT coding region. The proteins were purified by immunoaffinity chromatography. Assays were performed with mutant and wild-type RT to determine substrate and inhibitor specificity. All three mutant enzymes catalyzed the incorporation of substrate 2'-deoxynucleoside 5'-triphosphates (dNTPs) as efficiently as wild-type HIV-1 RT. Small changes were observed in the Km values for dNTPs with all three mutant enzymes, while more significant changes were noted in sensitivity to nucleoside 5'-triphosphate analogues that inhibit the enzyme activity. Results suggest that altered substrate recognition by the HIV-1 RT is involved in the mechanism of resistance.