The nucleotide-binding oligomerization domain proteins NOD1, NOD2 and NLRC3 are cytoplasmic pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) of the Nod-like receptor (NLR) family. In the present study, the Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) NOD1 (ntNOD1), NOD2 (ntNOD2) and NLRC3 (ntNLRC3) genes were cloned and characterized. The full-length ntNOD1, ntNOD2 and ntNLRC3 genes were 3924, 3886 and 4574 bp, encoding 941, 986 and 1130 amino acids, respectively. The three Nod-like receptors have a NACHT domain and a C-terminal leucine-rich repeat (LRR) domain. In addition, ntNOD1 and ntNOD2 have a N-terminal CARD domain (ntNOD2 has two). Phylogenetic analysis showed that the three NLRs are highly conserved. Tissue expression analysis of the three receptors revealed that the highest mRNA and protein levels of ntNOD1, ntNOD2 and ntNLRC3 were in the spleen. The expression patterns of NLRs during embryonic development showed that the expression levels of ntNOD2 and ntNLRC3 significantly increased from 2 to 8 days post-fertilization (dpf). The expression levels of ntNOD1 significantly increased from 2 to 6 dpf, decreased at 7 dpf and then increased at 8 dpf. Upon stimulation with an intraperitoneal injection of Streptococcus agalactiae, expression levels of the ntNOD1, ntNOD2 and ntNLRC3 mRNA and protein were clearly altered in the blood, spleen, kidney, intestine and gill. Furthermore, after cotransfection with an NF-κB reporter plasmid, NF-κB activation in ntNOD1-overexpressing 293T cells significantly increased compared with that in control cells, before or after i-EDPA-stimulation. By contrast, compared with control, ntNOD2 and ntNLRC3 had no effect on NF-κB activation in 293T cells, when their potential ligands were not stimulated. However, after MDP-stimulation, ntNOD2 and ntNLRC3 overexpression increased NF-κB activation in 293T cells. NOD1 and NLRC3 were uniformly distributed throughout the cytoplasm in 293T cells, whereas NOD2 was distributed throughout the cytoplasm and nucleus. Our results indicate that the three Nod-like receptors are functionally conserved and may play pivotal roles in defense against pathogens such as Streptococcus agalactiae.