Riboswitches are recently discovered genetic regulatory elements found in the 5'-untranslated regions of bacterial mRNAs that act through their ability to specifically bind small-molecule metabolites. Binding of the ligand to the aptamer domain of the riboswitch is communicated to a second domain, the expression platform, which directs transcription or translation of the mRNA. To understand this process on a molecular level, structures of three of these riboswitches bound to their cognate ligands have been solved by X-ray crystallography the purine, thiamine pyrophosphate (TPP), and S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-I) binding aptamer domains. These studies have uncovered three common themes between the otherwise different molecules. First, the natural RNA aptamers recognize directly or indirectly almost every feature of their ligand to achieve extraordinary specificity. Second, all of these RNAs use a complex tertiary architecture to establish the binding pocket. Finally, in each case, ligand binding serves to stabilize a helix that communicates the binding event to the expression platform. Here, we discuss these properties of riboswitches in the context of the purine and SAM-I riboswitches.