The o and p bandlets of the leech embryo are parallel columns of ectodermal blast cells which are identified by their relative positions, and which during normal embryogenesis follow distinct developmental pathways. A previous study showed that o blast cells are initially capable of following either the O or P pathway, and suggested that commitment to the O pathway depends upon interaction with the adjacent p bandlet. To better understand the nature and timing of this interaction we examined the fate of o blast cells whose p blast cell neighbors had been selectively ablated by photoexcitation of a fluorescent lineage tracer. If an o blast cell has not yet begun its secondary divisions, its normal commitment to the O pathway can be effectively prevented by ablation of the adjacent p bandlet. Comparing the outcome of progressively later lesions reveals that the progeny of the o blast cell become committed to the O pathway in a series of three discrete steps, and that these steps occur around the time of the first three blast cell divisions. Each of the three events affects a different subset of elements within the blast cell clone, and apparently commits those elements to either the O or P pathway depending upon the presence or absence of the other bandlet. These changes in blast cell fate are coextensive with the lesion along the bandlet's length, suggesting that the interaction of the two bandlets is localized to neighboring cells.