Mutations in the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) protease (L90M, G48V, and L90M/G48V) arise when HIV is passaged in the presence of the HIV protease inhibitor saquinavir. These mutations yield a virus with less sensitivity to the drug (L90M > G48V >> L90M/G48V). L90M, G48V, and L90M/G48V proteases have 1/20, 1/160, and 1/1000 the affinity for saquinavir compared to WT protease, respectively. Therefore, the affinity of mutant protease for saquinavir decreased as the sensitivity of the virus to saquinavir decreased. Association rate constants for WT and mutant proteases with saquinavir were similar, ranging from 2 to 4 x 107 M-1 s-1. In contrast, the dissociation rate constants for WT, L90M, G48V, and L90M/G48V proteases complexed with saquinavir were 0.0014, 0.019, 0.126, and 0.54 s-1, respectively. This indicated that the reduced affinity for mutant proteases and saquinavir is primarily the result of larger dissociation rate constants. The increased dissociation rate constants may be the result of a decrease in the internal equilibrium between the bound inhibitor with the protease flaps up and the bound inhibitor with the flaps down. Interestingly, the affinity of these mutant proteases for VX-478, ABT-538, AG-1343, or L-735,524 was not reduced as much as that for saquinavir. Finally, the catalytic constants of WT and mutant proteases were determined for eight small peptide substrates that mimic the viral cleavage sites in vivo. WT and L90M proteases had similar catalytic constants for these substrates. In contrast, G48V and L90M/G48V proteases had catalytic efficiency (k(cat)/K(m)) values with TLNF- PISP, RKIL-FLDG, and AETF-YVDG that were 1/10 to 1/20 the value of WT protease. The decreased catalytic efficiencies were primarily the result of increased K(m) values. Thus, mutations in the protease decrease the affinity of the enzyme for saquinavir and the catalytic efficiency with peptide substrates.