Carriers of mutations in the glucocerebrosidase gene (GBA) are at increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease. The frequency of GBA mutations in unselected Parkinson's disease populations has not been established. Furthermore, no previous studies have investigated the influence of GBA mutations on the natural history of Parkinson's disease using prospective follow-up. We studied DNA from 262 cases who had been recruited at diagnosis into one of two independent community-based incidence studies of Parkinson's disease. In 121 cases, longitudinal data regarding progression of motor disability and cognitive function were derived from follow-up assessments conducted every 18 months for a median of 71 months. Sequencing of the GBA was performed after two-stage polymerase chain reaction amplification. The carrier frequency of genetic variants in GBA was determined. Baseline demographic and clinical variables were compared between cases who were either GBA mutation carriers, polymorphism carriers or wild-type homozygotes. Cox regression analysis was used to model progression to major motor (Hoehn and Yahr stage 3), and cognitive (dementia) end-points in cases followed longitudinally. We show that in a representative, unselected UK Parkinson's disease population, GBA mutations are present at a frequency of 3.5%. This is higher than the prevalence of other genetic mutations currently associated with Parkinson's disease and indicates that GBA mutations make an important contribution to Parkinson's disease encountered in the community setting. Baseline clinical characteristics did not differ significantly between cases with and without GBA sequence variants. However, the hazard ratio for progression both to dementia (5.7, P = 0.003) and Hoehn and Yahr stage 3 (4.2, P = 0.003) were significantly greater in GBA mutation carriers. We also show that carriers of polymorphisms in GBA which are not generally considered to increase Parkinson's disease risk are at significantly increased risk of progression to Hoehn and Yahr stage 3 (3.2, P = 0.004). Our results indicate that genetic variation in GBA has an important impact on the natural history of Parkinson's disease. To our knowledge, this is the first time a genetic locus has been shown to influence motor progression in Parkinson's disease. If confirmed in further studies, this may indicate that GBA mutation status could be used as a prognostic marker in Parkinson's disease. Elucidation of the molecular mechanisms that underlie this effect will further our understanding of the pathogenesis of the disease and may in turn suggest novel therapeutic strategies.