The nucleotide sequences of two pol gene regions (codons 41 to 108 and 181 to 219 of reverse transcriptase) of 60 human immunodeficiency virus type 1 genomes obtained directly from primary lymphocytes from infected individuals are reported. In addition, the mutant spectra of several quasispecies have been sampled by repetitive sequencing of molecular clones representing the same pol genomic regions. Average mutation frequencies ranged from 1.6 x 10(-2) to 3.4 x 10(-2) substitutions per nucleotide for independent samples (relative to their consensus nucleotide sequence) and from 3.6 x 10(-3) to 1.1 x 10(-2) substitutions per nucleotide for individual quasispecies distributions. Several mutations leading to amino acid substitutions related to loss of sensitivity to reverse transcriptase inhibitors have been identified in samples from patients not subjected to antiretroviral therapy. Mutation frequencies in the codons previously identified as involved in resistance to reverse transcriptase inhibitors were very similar to the average mutation frequencies in the pol region analyzed. Thus, the finding of mutations related to drug resistance (even in the absence of positive selection by the corresponding drugs) is the expected consequence of the statistical distribution of mutations along the pol gene. The presence of such critical amino acid replacements in human immunodeficiency virus type 1 populations underscores the importance of viral quasispecies as reservoirs of phenotypic virus variants and has a number of implications for AIDS control.