BACKGROUND: Synapse damage and loss are fundamental to the pathophysiology of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and lead to reduced cognitive function. The goal of this review is to address the challenges of forging new clinical development approaches for AD therapeutics that can demonstrate reduction of synapse damage or loss. The key points of this review include the following: Synapse loss is a downstream effect of amyloidosis, tauopathy, inflammation, and other mechanisms occurring in AD.Synapse loss correlates most strongly with cognitive decline in AD because synaptic function underlies cognitive performance.Compounds that halt or reduce synapse damage or loss have a strong rationale as treatments of AD.Biomarkers that measure synapse degeneration or loss in patients will facilitate clinical development of such drugs.The ability of methods to sensitively measure synapse density in the brain of a living patient through synaptic vesicle glycoprotein 2A (SV2A) positron emission tomography (PET) imaging, concentrations of synaptic proteins (e.g., neurogranin or synaptotagmin) in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), or functional imaging techniques such as quantitative electroencephalography (qEEG) provides a compelling case to use these types of measurements as biomarkers that quantify synapse damage or loss in clinical trials in AD. CONCLUSION: A number of emerging biomarkers are able to measure synapse injury and loss in the brain and may correlate with cognitive function in AD. These biomarkers hold promise both for use in diagnostics and in the measurement of therapeutic successes.