The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) reverse transcriptase (RT) is a heterodimeric enzyme composed of a 66 kDa (p66) and a 51 kDa (p51) subunit. Recently we showed that p51 plays an important role in the conformation of p66 within the HIV-1 RT heterodimer and hence appears to influence its catalytic activities [Amacker, M., and H ubscher, U. (1998) J. Mol. Biol. 278, 757-765]. This was further investigated here via construction of three intramolecular chimeras of HIV-1 and FIV RTs. The first 25 and 112 amino acids of the N terminus, respectively, as well as the last 22 amino acids of the C terminus in the p51 subunit of HIV-1 RT were exchanged with the corresponding regions of the FIV RT and combined with the wild-type HIV-1 p66. Characterization of these chimeric RT heterodimers demonstrated significant biochemical differences in (i) DNA-dependent DNA synthesis, (ii) strand displacement DNA synthesis, and (iii) RNase H activity. Our results indicate that both the N and C termini of HIV-1 RT p51 appear to be important in stabilizing the RT heterodimer for enzymatic functions.