A human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) variant with highly reduced susceptibility to Ro 31-8959, an inhibitor of the viral proteinase, has been selected by repeated passage of wild-type virus in CEM cells in the presence of increasing concentrations of the inhibitor. Peptide sequences of the proteinase of selected virus were obtained from proviral DNA. Sequence comparison to wild-type (wt) proteinase demonstrated two amino acid substitutions in the resistant virus, a Gly to Val exchange at position 48 and a Leu to Met exchange at position 90. Furthermore, sequences of intermediate passage virus suggest contributions from positions 12, 36, 57, and 63 in early steps of resistance development. The selected virus showed a ca. 40-fold increase in 50% inhibitory concentration of Ro 31-8959. Growth kinetics of resistant virus were comparable to wild-type virus and the resistant genotype proved to be stable in the absence of inhibitor. Directed mutagenesis of the HIV-1 HXB2 proteinase at positions 48 and 90 suggested that each mutation alone led to a moderate decrease in sensitivity of the recombinant virus to proteinase inhibitor. However, a recombinant virus carrying both mutations in the proteinase gene showed a significant reduction in its sensitivity to Ro 31-8959 thus proving the importance of these exchanges for the resistance phenotype.