HIV-1 protease has been an important drug target for the antiretroviral treatment of HIV infection. The efficacy of protease drugs is impaired by the rapid emergence of resistant virus strains. Understanding the molecular basis and evaluating the potency of an inhibitor to combat resistance are no doubt important in AIDS therapy. In this study, we first identified residues that have significant contributions to binding with six substrates using molecular dynamics simulations and Molecular Mechanics Generalized Born Surface Area calculations. Among the critical residues, Asp25, Gly27, Ala28, Asp29, and Gly49 are well conserved, with which the potent drugs should form strong interactions. We then calculated the contribution of each residue to binding with eight FDA approved drugs. We analyzed the conservation of each protease residue and also compared the interaction between the HIV protease and individual residues of the drugs and substrates. Our analyses showed that resistant mutations usually occur at less conserved residues forming more favorable interactions with drugs than with substrates. To quantitatively integrate the binding free energy and conservation information, we defined an empirical parameter called free energy/variability (FV) value, which is the product of the contribution of a single residue to the binding free energy and the sequence variability at that position. As a validation, the FV value was shown to identify single resistant mutations with an accuracy of 88%. Finally, we evaluated the potency of a newly approved drug, darunavir, to combat resistance and predicted that darunavir is more potent than amprenavir but may be susceptible to mutations on Val32 and Ile84. Proteins 2008. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.