Local cell signaling can pattern the nervous system by directing cell fates, including programmed cell death. In the developing Drosophila retina, programmed cell death is used to remove excess cells between ommatidia. Cell ablation revealed the source and position of signals required for regulating the pattern of programmed cell death among these interommatidial cells. Two types of signals regulate this patterning event. Notch-mediated signals between interommatidial precursors result in removal of unneeded cells. Cone cells and primary pigment cells oppose this signal by supplying a 'life'-promoting activity; evidence is provided that this signal occurs through localized activation of the EGF Receptor/Ras pathway. Together, these signals refine the highly regular pattern observed in the adult retina.