In plants, nitrate is not only a major nitrogen source but also a signalling molecule that modulates the expression of a wide range of genes and that regulates growth and development. The critical role of nitrate as a signalling molecule has been established for several decades. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying the nitrate response have remained elusive, as the transcription factor that primarily responds to nitrate signals has not yet been identified. Here we show that Arabidopsis NIN-LIKE PROTEIN (NLP) family proteins bind the nitrate-responsive cis-element and activate nitrate-responsive cis-element-dependent and nitrate-responsive transcription. Our results also suggest that the activity of NLPs is post-translationally modulated by nitrate signalling. Furthermore, the suppression of NLP function impairs the nitrate-inducible expression of a number of genes and causes severe growth inhibition. These results indicate that NLPs are the transcription factors mediating the nitrate signal and thereby function as master regulators of the nitrate response.