We reported previously that substitutions F61L, F61W, F61Y and F61A in human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) reverse transcriptase affect strand displacement synthesis [T. S. Fisher, T. Darden and V. R. Prasad (2003) J. Mol. Biol., 325, 443–459]. We have now determined the effect of these mutations on HIV replication. All mutant viruses were replication defective. Measuring replication intermediates in infected cells did not reveal a specific block as all mutants displayed reduced DNA synthesis (wild-type>F61L>F61W>F61Y>F61A). Analysis of 2-LTR circle junctions revealed that F61W and F61Y mutants generated increased aberrant circle junctions. Circle junctions corresponding to F61Y included 3′-PPT insertions suggesting ribonuclease H defect. In vitro assays mimicking PPT primer generation indicated that F61L, F61W and F61Y mutant RTs were unaffected, while F61A mutant cleaved both at PPT/U3 junction and at +6 with similar efficiencies. In assays measuring cleavage at the RNA/DNA junction to remove the PPT primer, all mutants were significantly affected with F61Y and F61A being most severely impaired. Our results show that (i) replication block of most mutants is due to more than one biochemical defect; (ii) mutations in polymerase domain can affect the function of a distal domain; and (iii) virological analyses of RT mutations can yield insight into structure–function relationship that is otherwise not obvious.