Riboswitches are RNA elements that act on the mRNA with which they are cotranscribed to modulate expression of that mRNA. These elements are widely found in bacteria, where they have a broad impact on gene expression. The defining feature of riboswitches is that they directly recognize a physiological signal, and the resulting shift in RNA structure affects gene regulation. The majority of riboswitches respond to cellular metabolites, often in a feedback loop to repress synthesis of the enzymes used to produce the metabolite. Related elements respond to the aminoacylation status of a specific tRNA or to a physical parameter, such as temperature or pH. Recent studies have identified new classes of riboswitches and have revealed new insights into the molecular mechanisms of signal recognition and gene regulation. Application of structural and biophysical approaches has complemented previous genetic and biochemical studies, yielding new information about how different riboswitches operate.
Keywords: RNA structure; RNA-mediated regulation; transcription attenuation; translational regulation.