Aptamers are useful for allosteric regulation because they are nucleic acid-based structures in which ligand binding induces conformational changes that may alter the function of a connected oligonucleotide at a distant site. Through this approach, a specific input is efficiently converted into an altered output. This property makes these biomolecules ideally suited to function as sensors or switches in biochemical assays or inside living cells. The ability to select oligonucleotide-based recognition elements in vitro in combination with the availability of nucleic acids with enzymatic activity has led to the development of a wide range of engineered allosteric aptasensors and aptazymes. Here, we discuss recent progress in the screening, design and diversity of these conformational switching oligonucleotides. We cover their application in vitro and for regulating gene expression in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes.