In neurons, mitochondria are enriched to provide energy and calcium buffering required for synaptic transmission. Additionally, mitochondria localize to the synapse, where they are critical for the mobilization of reserve pool vesicles and for neurotransmitter release. Previously, functional defects in mitochondria were considered to be downstream effects of neurodegenerative diseases. However, more recent findings suggest mitochondria may serve as key mediators in the onset and progression of some types of neurodegeneration. In this review, we explore the possible roles of altered mitochondrial function and dynamics in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders, with a particular focus on Alzheimer's disease (AD) and Parkinson's disease (PD), which have highlighted the important role of mitochondria in neurodegeneration. While inheritable diseases like Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 2A are concretely linked to gene mutations affecting mitochondrial function, the cause of mitochondrial dysfunction in primarily sporadic diseases such as AD and PD is less clear. Neuronal death in PD is associated with defects in mitochondrial function and dynamics arising from mutations in proteins affecting these processes, including α-synuclein, DJ-1, LRRK2, Parkin and Pink1. In the case of AD, however, the connection between mitochondria and the onset of neurodegeneration has been less clear. Recent findings, however, have implicated altered function of ER-mitochondria contact sites and amyloid beta- and/or tau-induced defects in mitochondrial function and dynamics in the pathogenesis of AD, suggesting that mitochondrial defects may act as key mediators in the pathogenesis of AD as well. With recent findings at hand, it may be postulated that defects in mitochondrial processes comprise key events in the onset of neurodegeneration.