Reverse transcriptase (RT) of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) is synthesized and packaged into the virion as a part of the GagPol polyprotein. Mature RT is released by the action of viral protease. However, unlike other viral proteins, RT is subject to an internal cleavage event leading to the formation of two subunits in the virion: a p66 subunit and a p51 subunit that lacks the RNase H domain. We have previously identified RNase H to be an HIV-1 protein that has the potential to be a substrate for the N-end rule pathway, which is an ubiquitin-dependent proteolytic system in which the identity of the N-terminal amino acid determines the half-life of a protein. Here we examined the importance of the N-terminal amino acid residue of RNase H in the early life cycle of HIV-1. We show that changing this residue to an amino acid structurally different from the conserved residue leads to the degradation of RT and, in some cases, integrase in the virus particle and this abolishes infectivity. Using intravirion complementation and in vitro protease cleavage assays, we show that degradation of RT in RNase H N-terminal mutants occurs in the absence of active viral protease in the virion. Our results also indicate the importance of the RNase H N-terminal residue in the dimerization of RT subunits.