Inhibitory and excitatory synapses play a fundamental role in information processing in the brain. Excitatory synapses usually are situated on dendritic spines, small membrane protrusions that harbor glutamate receptors and postsynaptic density components and help transmit electrical signals. In recent years, it has become evident that spine morphology is intimately linked to synapse function--smaller spines have smaller synapses and support reduced synaptic transmission. The relationship between synaptic signaling, spine shape, and brain function is never more apparent than when the brain becomes dysfunctional. Many psychiatric and neurologic disorders, ranging from mental retardation and autism to Alzheimer's disease and addiction, are accompanied by alterations in spine morphology and synapse number. In this review, we highlight the structure and molecular organization of synapses and discuss functional effects of synapse pathology in brain disease.