Recent studies have demonstrated the important enzymatic, structural and regulatory roles of RNA in the cell. Here we present a post-transcriptional regulation system in Escherichia coli that uses RNA to both silence and activate gene expression. We inserted a complementary cis sequence directly upstream of the ribosome binding site in a target gene. Upon transcription, this cis-repressive sequence causes a stem-loop structure to form at the 5′-untranslated region of the mRNA. The stem-loop structure interferes with ribosome binding, silencing gene expression. A small noncoding RNA that is expressed in trans targets the cis-repressed RNA with high specificity, causing an alteration in the stem-loop structure that activates expression. Such engineered riboregulators may lend insight into mechanistic actions of endogenous RNA-based processes and could serve as scalable components of biological networks, able to function with any promoter or gene to directly control gene expression.