Structural elements in the 5' region of a bacterial mRNA can have major effects on expression of downstream coding sequences. Folding of the nascent RNA into the helix of an intrinsic transcriptional terminator results in premature termination of transcription and in failure to synthesize the full-length transcript. Structure in the translation initiation region of an mRNA blocks access of the translation initiation complex to the ribosome binding site, thereby preventing protein synthesis. RNA structures can also affect the stability of an RNA by altering sensitivity to ribonucleases. A wide variety of mechanisms have been uncovered in which changes in mRNA structure in response to a regulatory signal are used to modulate gene expression in bacteria. These systems allow the cell to recognize an impressive array of signals, and to monitor those signals in many different ways.