Reverse transcription of HIV-1 RNA is initiated from the 3′ end of a tRNA3Lys molecule annealed to the primer binding site (PBS). An additional interaction between the anticodon loop of tRNA3Lys and a viral A-rich loop is required for efficient initiation of reverse transcription of the HIV-1 MAL isolate. In the HIV-1 HXB2 isolate, simultaneous mutations of the PBS and the A-rich loop (mutant His-AC), but not of the PBS alone (mutant His) allows the virus to stably utilize tRNAHis as primer. However, mutant His-AC selects additional mutations during cell culture, generating successively His-AC-GAC and His-AC-AT-GAC. Here, we wanted to establish direct relationships between the evolution of these mutants in cell culture, their efficiency in initiating reverse transcription and the structure of the primer/template complexes in vitro. The initiation of reverse transcription of His and His-AC RNAs was dramatically reduced. However, His-AC-GAC RNA, which incorporated three adaptative point mutations, was reverse transcribed more efficiently than the wild type RNA. Incorporation of two additional mutations decreased the efficiency of the initiation of reverse transcription, which remained at the wild type level. Structural probing showed that even though both His-AC and His-AC-GAC RNAs can potentially interact with the anticodon loop of tRNAHis, only the latter template formed a stable interaction. Thus, our results showed that the selection of adaptative mutations by HIV-1 mutants utilizing tRNAHis as primer was initially dictated by the efficiency of the initiation of reverse transcription, which relied on the existence of a stable interaction between the mutated A-rich loop and the anticodon loop of tRNAHis.