The initial steps of pattern formation in the developing Drosophila eye involve the coordination of cell cycles, changes in cell shape, and the specification of the R8 photoreceptor cell. These events begin several cell rows ahead of the morphogenetic furrow and are positively regulated by secreted signaling proteins and the proneural HLH transcription factor atonal (ato). Two HLH regulatory proteins that function to suppress neuronal development in other tissues, extra macrochaetae (emc) and hairy (h), are expressed ahead of the morphogenetic furrow. While neither h nor emc is required for photoreceptor cell determination, in emc-h-clones the morphogenetic furrow and differentiated eye field advance up to eight ommatidial rows ahead of adjacent wild-type tissue. This indicates that morphogenetic furrow progression and neuronal differentiation are negatively regulated by a combination of anteriorly expressed HLH regulatory proteins.