The riboswitch control of bacterial metabolism

Trends Biochem Sci. 2004 Jan;29(1):11-7. doi: 10.1016/j.tibs.2003.11.004.


Aptamers are artificial nucleic acids that selectively bind small molecules. In the past two years, it has become clear that nature has already devised its own aptamers that play important regulatory roles. RNA sensors have been discovered in both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria that function as molecular switches in response to direct binding of structurally diverse metabolites. These natural RNA aptamers, called 'riboswitches', are imbedded in the leader sequences of numerous metabolic genes. Riboswitches are able to repress or activate their cognate genes at both transcriptional and translational levels. Here, we summarize the recent progress in the identification and characterization of riboswitches and discuss their evolution and distribution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial / genetics*
  • RNA, Bacterial / chemistry
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics*
  • RNA, Bacterial / metabolism*
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • RNA, Bacterial