Glutamine-151 of HIV-1 RT has been shown to be a catalytically important residue through the characterization of its mutant phenotype Glu151Ala (Sarafianos et al., 1995a). To further understand the role of this residue, we have extended this analysis to include polymerization on natural RNA template in addition to DNA template. We find that Q151A mutant exhibited a severe reduction in the polymerase activity without any significant effect on the affinity for dNTP substrate. Unlike DNA-directed reactions, the rate-limiting step for RNA-directed reactions does not appear to be either at the dNTP binding step or the chemical step. Analysis of the products formed on natural heteromeric HIV-genomic RNA template annealed with an 18-mer DNA primer with a sequence complementary to the primer binding site (PBS) has shown that addition of nucleotides is nonlinear with time since the enzyme appears to stall on the RNA template following the incorporation of the first nucleotide. The Q151A mutant was found to be nearly devoid of pyrophosphorolytic activity on a RNA-PBS template-primer. Similar properties have been previously reported for a mutant of R72 (R72A) of HIV-1 RT (Sarafianos et al., 1995b). However, R72 was implicated in stabilizing the transition state ternary complex before and after the phosphodiester bond formation (Kaushik et al., 1996; Sarafianos et al., 1995b). Our results with Q151A suggest that the side chain of Q151 may help stabilize the side chain of R72, and the loss of pyrophosphorolysis activity observed with the Q151 mutant may be the indirect manifestation of this stabilizing effect on R72. These observations point to the functional interdependence of residues Q151 and R72 in the polymerase function of the enzyme. An analysis of the 3D model structure of HIV-1 RT bound to DNA-DNA and RNA-DNA template-primer reveals that the guanidine hydrogen of R72 seems to stabilize Q151 by hydrogen bonding with its amide oxygen. A systematic conformational search of the side chain of Q151 also suggests a stable orientation where its specific interaction with the base of the RNA template may aid in stabilizing it.