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How can I italicize the label of a heatmap?

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Baolei Wu
Baolei Wu on 29 Nov 2018
Commented: Adam Danz on 7 Jan 2021
I just can not italicize the colume labels using the "\it" command. How can I fix it?
yvalues={"\it Campylobacter (gull,+)","{\it Salmonella} (gull,+)", "nororvirus (sewage,+)", "adenovirus (sewage,-)", ...
"{\it Campylobacter} (sewage,+)","{\it Salmonella} (sewage,+)","{\it E.coli} O157:H7 (sewage,+)","{\it Cryptosporidium} (sewage,+)",...
"{\it Giardia} (sewage,+)", "norovirus (effluent,+)", "adenovirus (effluent,-)","{\it Cryptosporidium} (effluent,+)",...
"{\it Giardia} (effluent,+)","{\it Campylobacter} (cattle,+)","{\it Salmonella} (cattle,+)","{\it E. coli} O157:H7 (cattle,+)",...
"{\it Cryptosporidium} (cattle,+)","{\it Giardia} (cattle,+)"};
set(gca,'XLabel','GeM concentration (GC/100 mL)','YLabel','R_p');

Accepted Answer

Adam Danz
Adam Danz on 29 Nov 2018
Edited: Adam Danz on 3 Jan 2020
The heatmap() function (released 2017a) unfortunately doesn't provide handles to the column and row labels so there's no way of changing their 'interpreter' so that the italics is recognized. I don't think it's even possible to get access to those handles using methods such as findall() (I tried).
The older HeatMap() function (released 2009b, Bioinformatics toolbox) is more customizable. For example, the addYLabel() function allows users to customize the row labels but it only works with the older version of HeatMap().
If you really need to make that change, one hacky method would be to remove the row labels, put a 2nd transparent axes over top of the heatmap, calculate where each row-center is, and then set the yticks and ylabels.
h = heatmap(xvalues,yvalues,cdata);
h.YDisplayLabels = repmat({''}, size(h.YData)); %remove row labels
a2 = axes('Position', h.Position); %new axis on top
a2.Color = 'none'; %new axis transparent
a2.YTick = 1:size(h.ColorData,1); %set y ticks to number of rows
a2.XTick = []; %Remove xtick
% alternatively, to preserve axis label spacing :
% a2.XTickLabel = repmat({' '}, size(a2.XTick));
ylim(a2, [0.5, size(h.ColorData,1)+.5]) %center the tick marks
a2.YDir = 'Reverse'; %flip your y axis to correspond with heatmap's
a2.YTickLabel = {'\it Green','\it Red',...}; %set you ytick labels here, formatted.
Applying this to matlab's heatmap example produces the following plot.

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