Riboswitches are structures that form in mRNA and regulate gene expression in bacteria. Unlike other known RNA regulatory structures, they are directly bound by small ligands. The mechanism by which gene expression is regulated involves the formation of alternative structures that, in the repressing conformation, cause premature termination of transcription or inhibition of translation initiation. Riboswitches regulate several metabolic pathways including the biosynthesis of vitamins (e.g. riboflavin, thiamin and cobalamin) and the metabolism of methionine, lysine and purines. Candidate riboswitches have also been observed in archaea and eukaryotes. The taxonomic diversity of genomes containing riboswitches and the diversity of molecular mechanisms of regulation, in addition to the fact that direct interaction of riboswitches with their effectors does not require additional factors, suggest that riboswitches represent one of the oldest regulatory systems.