Substitutions at residue Y181 in HIV-1 reverse transcriptase (RT), in particular, Y181C, Y181I, and Y181V, are associated with nonnucleoside RT inhibitor (NNRTI) cross-resistance. In this study, we used kinetic and thermodynamic approaches, in addition to molecular modeling, to gain insight into the mechanisms by which these substitutions confer resistance to nevirapine (NVP), efavirenz (EFV), and rilpivirine (RPV). Using pre-steady-state kinetics, we found that the dissociation constant (Kd ) values for inhibitor binding to the Y181C and Y181I RT-template/primer (T/P) complexes were significantly reduced. In the presence of saturating concentrations of inhibitor, the Y181C RT-T/P complex incorporated the next correct deoxynucleoside triphosphate (dNTP) more efficiently than the wild-type (WT) complex, and this phenotype correlated with decreased mobility of the RT on the T/P substrate. Interestingly, we found that the Y181F substitution in RT-which represents a transitional mutation between Y181 and Y181I/V, or a partial revertant-conferred hypersusceptibility to EFV and RPV at both the virus and enzyme levels. EFV and RPV bound more tightly to Y181F RT-T/P. Furthermore, inhibitor-bound Y181F RT-T/P was less efficient than the WT complex in incorporating the next correct dNTP, and this could be attributed to increased mobility of Y181F RT on the T/P substrate. Collectively, our data highlight the key role that Y181 in RT plays in NNRTI binding.