Recent advances have revealed common pathological changes in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis with related frontotemporal dementia (ALS/FTD). Many of these changes can be linked to alterations in endoplasmic reticulum (ER)–mitochondria signaling, including dysregulation of Ca2+ signaling, autophagy, lipid metabolism, ATP production, axonal transport, ER stress responses and synaptic dysfunction. ER–mitochondria signaling involves specialized regions of ER, called mitochondria-associated membranes (MAMs). Owing to their role in neurodegenerative processes, MAMs have gained attention as they appear to be associated with all the major neurodegenerative diseases. Furthermore, their specific role within neuronal maintenance is being revealed as mutant genes linked to major neurodegenerative diseases have been associated with damage to these specialized contacts. Several studies have now demonstrated that these specialized contacts regulate neuronal health and synaptic transmission, and that MAMs are damaged in patients with neurodegenerative diseases. This Review will focus on the role of MAMs and ER–mitochondria signaling within neurons and how damage of the ER–mitochondria axis leads to a disruption of vital processes causing eventual neurodegeneration.