Cell replacement therapy is a promising approach for the treatment of cardiac diseases. It is, however, challenged by a limited supply of appropriate cells. Therefore, we have investigated whether functional cardiomyocytes can be efficiently generated from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). In this study, we developed an efficient protocol for the generation of functional cardiomyocytes from hESCs by combining hanging drop culture and 5-azacytidine, a well-known demethylating agent, and then evaluated the expression of cardiac-specific markers. hESCs were cultured both in the medium without or with 0.1, 1, or 10 microM of 5-azacytidine under a hanging drop culture. The expression of several cardiac-specific markers was determined by real-time PCR, RT-PCR, immunofluorescence, and confocal microscopy. To verify the structural and functional properties of hESC-derived cardiomyocytes, we performed electron microscopy and electrophysiological recording. The efficiency of beating cell generation was significantly improved in the hanging drop culture compared with that in suspension culture. Treatment of hESCs with 0.1 microM of 5-azacytidine for 1-3 days significantly increased the number of beating cells and simultaneously enhanced the expression of cardiac-specific markers. Transmission electron microscopy and electrophysiological recording showed that hESC-derived cardiomyocytes acquired structural and functional properties of cardiomyocytes. In conclusion, these results suggest that differentiation of hESCs into cardiomyocytes can be enhanced by the combination of hanging drop culture and 5-azacytidine treatment. Also the methylation status of genes related to cardiomyocyte development may play an important role in the differentiation of hESCs into cardiomyocytes.