Circos > Documentation > Tutorials > Highlights > Wedges
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3 — Highlights

1. Wedge Highlights

Highlights are special track type used for highlighting regions of the image created by Circos. Highlights are defined in a <highlights> block are different than tracks defined in a <plots> block in the following ways

  • highlights are drawn underneath any grids and other data
  • highlights can be automatically locked to lie within the radial extent of the ideograms

In effect, highlights give you the ability to draw a colored slice, defined by start/end radius and start/end genomic position, anywhere within the image. Used creatively, highlights can be used to draw attention to a region of the genome, specify area masks, and even draw ideograms from another species as concentric circles.

If you want to draw highlights on top of data, use a type=highlight <plot> block, which is described in detail here.

wedge vs ideogram highlights

Wedge highlights have flexible radial start and end positions. These radial positions are defined by the r0 and r1 parameters (see below).

Ideogram highlights are drawn inside the ideograms, on top of the cytogenetic bands, if those are drawn.

defining highlights

Highlights are defined in external data files. A highlight file is composed of at least three fields, with potentially a fourth field that defines formatting for each highlight. For example, a simple highlight file might contain lines such as

hs1 1298972 1300443
hs1 1311738 1324571
hs1 1397026 1421444
hs1 1437417 1459927

Formatting and data files for highlights are defined in <highlights> blocks. In the example below, the same highlight data file, genes.txt, which uses gene transcription regions to define highlights, is drawn three times in the figure.


z          = 0
fill_color = green

file       = data/3/genes.txt
r0         = 0.6r
r1         = 0.8r

file       = data/3/genes.txt
r0         = 0.7r
r1         = 0.75r
z          = 5

file       = data/3/genes.txt
r0         = 1.1r
r1         = 1.15r
fill_color = blue
stroke_color = dblue
stroke_thickness = 2


First, all highlights are confined within a <highlights> block. A given highlight can have its parameters specified in three places. In increasing order of precedence these are

  • the highlights block
  • individual highlight block
  • data file

Thus, if a highlight is formatted to have a red fill color in the data file, this value overrides any other color setting for that highlight in <highlight> or <highlights> blocks.

highlight radial position

The primary highlight feature that you want to control is the radial start and end position, defined by r0 (inner) and r1 (outer) radii. Both values are defined relative (r) to the ideogram radius or in terms of absolute pixels (p) from the center of the image.

Defining relative radial position is helpful because if you adjust the image size, the position of the highlights will not be altered, relative to other features in the image. For example

r0 = 0.5r
r1 = 0.75r

will set the highlight radial position to be 0.5-0.75 of the fraction of the inner ideogram radius. Highlights with r0,r1 > 1 will be defined relative to the outer ideogram radius.

It is possible to mix relative and absolute values. For example,

r0 = 0.5r
r1 = 1r-25p

will draw the highlight from 50% of the inner ideogram radius all the way to the inner ideogram radius, less 25 pixels. Specifying absolute values provides pixel-level control over position of highlight features. This becomes important when you wish to present your image at different scales, when a constant 5px margin may be more meaningful than a 1% margin.


Each highlight is specified by a single data file line and is defined by a genomic start and end position on the same chromosome. Highlights are drawn independently and you can control which highlights are drawn first by specifying a highlight's z-depth value.

Nearly ll Circos data structures can be assigned a z-depth value to control which elements are drawn in front.

In the block definition of this tutorial section, you'll see that the highlights block has a default z-depth value assigned

z = 0

This is the default z-depth value, and as such does not have to be explicitly stated. It's helpful to do so, however, especially when planning to adjust the z-depth later.

The second highlight block defines a set of highlights drawn at z=5. Since this block's z-depth is higher, it will be drawn on top of the first highlight block. In effect, what will happen is that the highlights defined by the first block will be drawn first, followed by highlights of the second block.

The net effect is a set of red, shorter highlights (100px tall) drawn on top of the green highlights defined by the first block.

highlight formatting

The following parameters can be controlled for each highlight

  • r0 - inner radius of highlight
  • r1 - outer radius of highlight
  • offset - an offset applied to both r0 and r1 (useful for overriding default r0,r1 values defined at lower precedence)
  • fill_color - color of the highlight slice
  • stroke_color - color of the highlight border, drawn if stroke_thickness is set
  • stroke_thickness - border thickness, if any, of the highlight slice
  • z - z-depth of the highlight, controlling the order in which highlights are drawn
  • ideogram - toggles the position of the highlight to be within the ideogram extent

All of these are explored in other parts of this tutorial section.