While many point mutations in the HIV-1 reverse transcriptase (RT) confer resistance to antiretroviral drugs, inserts or deletions in this gene have not been previously characterized. In this report, 14 RT inhibitor-treated patients were found to have HIV-1 strains possessing a 6-basepair insert between codons 69 and 70 of the RT gene. Known drug resistance mutations were also observed in these strains, with T215Y appearing in all strains. Genotypic analysis indicated that the inserts had substantial nucleotide variability that resulted in relatively restricted sets of amino acid sequences. Linkage of patients' treatment histories with longitudinal sequencing data showed that insert strains appeared during drug regimens containing ddI or ddC, with prior or concurrent AZT treatment. Drug susceptibility tests of recombinant patient isolates showed reduced susceptibility to nearly all nucleoside RT inhibitors. Site- directed mutagenesis studies confirmed the role of the inserts alone in conferring reduced susceptibility to most RT inhibitors. The addition of AZT-associated drug resistance mutations further increased the range and magnitude of resistance. These results establish that inserts, like point mutations, are selected in vivo during antiretroviral therapy and provide resistance to multiple nucleoside analogs.